/ 6 May 2024

Is Palestine the new Vietnam for university students in the US?

Americans Protest After Police Arrest Students At Nyu And New School In Nyc
Students and faculty members march after New York Police Department (NYPD) officers arrest students at New York University (NYU) and The New School who are demanding universities divest from Israel. One pro-Palestinian detained by the police during the march. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Students at universities have taken to the streets in protest against the actions of Israel in Gaza. This is unprecedented given that most of these institutions are funded by organisations and people who support the Zionist cause in Israel. These young people are agitating for a free Palestine, and for their schools to divest from Israel. 

These protests have been peaceful, and the students disciplined, yet they have been arrested and the police have used tear gas and rubber bullets. 

 The last time we saw something close to this kind of student activism in the US was during the era of the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The Vietnam veterans, other organisations and, later, many citizens were opposed to the senseless war. On 4 May 1970, at Kent State University in Ohio, 13 students were shot; nine were injured and four were killed by the Ohio National Guard — simply for exercising their right to protest against the Vietnam War. This was just one of many protests at other colleges and universities throughout the US in the 1960s and 1970s. The US eventually pulled its troops out of Vietnam. 

The debate about Palestine has divided Americans for a long time given that it is the taxpayer who bears the burden of this conflict when the government sends billions of dollars in military aid to Israel. Just a few days ago Congress passed a bill to send $26 billion to Israel amid its war in Gaza. 

Such actions only indicate that the US has learned nothing from its own history. The unpopular and unjust decisions and actions of the US regarding Israel in Gaza are being opposed by the brave, young people of this country. 

To those who lived through the 1960s and 1970s, the current scenes on national television of student protests are all too familiar. 

But there is a difference between the struggles of yesteryear and today. The US had military conscription and young people were drafted into the armed forces to serve in Vietnam. Many young people did not want to go to war, nor had any desire to serve in the military. They were sent off to fight, be injured and traumatised or die in an unnecessary war. When Muhammad Ali and others stood up against the draft, the young people of America stood with them.

Today the US does not have compulsory military conscription. It is now a volunteer army. Also, in the case of Israel and Gaza, the US has no combat boots on the ground killing the Palestinian people — except that Uncle Sam is happy to supply weapons and money to enable Israel to wipe out the people of Gaza and elsewhere. 

The level of consciousness and courage among the students at Colombia, Harvard, MIT and many other prestigious institutions cannot be ignored. Hundreds of students have now been arrested for simply protesting against what is happening in Gaza. It will be said of the many young people of today that they were on the right side of history and that they stood up for the oppressed. 

As Chile’s Salvador Allende once said, “To be young and not a revolutionary is a biological contradiction.” It is a duty for these young people to stand up against what they believe to be unjust, and they should never be punished for doing that. 

And lest we forget, the United States of America was founded by protest. It was taxation without representation that led to the Revolution in 1776. Ironically, the students of today are also protesting against the misuse of their tax money to support a war against Palestinians by Israel. No amount of intimidation and name calling will stop students from speaking out. They know they have a right to express themselves through peaceful protests. They understand that freedom of expression is a fundamental human right, protected by the first amendment of the US Constitution.

This development has worried the Israeli government so much that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a statement using the “anti-Semitism” tag to deflect any criticism of Israel’s actions. At the World Economic Forum, the president of the Palestinian National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, pleaded with the US government to stop Israel from going into Rafah, saying: “It’s only the Americans that can stop Bibi and his regime.” This view is shared by the students in the US. 

Palestine is the Vietnam of our time.

Aaron Ng’ambi is a geopolitical analyst and newspaper columnist, leadership instructor, and a social entrepreneur.