It’s essential to analyze anti-Israel protests on campuses

Guest Editorial by Emma Gius.

SANTA CRUZ, CA (June 10, 2024) — Eugene O’Neill claimed, “There is no present or future – only the past happening over and over again,” and Karl Marx said, “History repeats itself.” George Santayana stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The contrapositive of this is that by remembering the past, we can avoid repeating mistakes. At surface value, this seems easy enough.

As I write this, faculty and my fellow college students are blocking both entrances to the UC Santa Cruz campus as an act of escalation in their month-long protest calling for the university administration’s divestment from Israel.

Due to this escalation, the university has moved all classes to remote instruction for the next couple days, some even for the remainder of the year, and people are having problems entering and exiting campus. The administration still refuses to give in to the protesters’ demands to divest from a genocide.

This is not an isolated event: Over the past two months, there have been demonstrations, sit-ins and encampments at 140 campuses calling for the colleges to divest from Israel.

This rapid uptick of student protests has grabbed the media’s attention. Social media has especially spotlighted the stark parallels between the current movement and past student activist movements.

College campuses have always been a hotbed of student activism, and with the state of today’s digital media, the amount of content available for public sharing makes comparisons so easy. But is a simple comparison to remember parallels enough to learn? To me, they just force generalizations onto a very nuanced situation.

A social media post comparing today’s Hind’s Hall to Hind’s Hall from 1968 isn’t enough to recall and learn from the past. We have an ethical duty to do more than just shallowly compare. We must analyze the past and present to make radical change with today’s protests. We must look at the history of student activism and protests in the United States.

Both the 1960s anti-war protests and the 1980s anti-apartheid protests had undeniable similarities to today’s free Palestine movement. There were building occupations, student encampments and, in some cases, an overwhelming response to police brutality. We may see a similar reaction to today’s protests, however, there exist key differences that need to be addressed to have a comprehensive understanding of the present.

Both the level of U.S. involvement and the false conflation of Israel and Judaism will affect how school administrations and the public will respond. We should analyze the parallels and distinctions so that our student organizers can use their voice and platform to create the most significant impact.

As the students escalate their means of protest and the school year comes to an end on my campus, I cannot help but wonder what will happen next. Will the students achieve their goals and incite a radical cultural shift? Will the administration resort to police brutality to put an end to the protests? Or will this movement and effort dissolve as the students move on past the school year?

To answer these questions, we must do more than just make shallow comparisons to the past. We must actively use our history and learn from it to make radical change.

Emma Gius lived in Clayton and Concord before attending UC Santa Cruz, where she is a second-year student majoring in computer science with a focus on statistics.