Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 30 April 2024


Opinion | America’s New Mob Rule

For readers of a certain age, today’s protests at Columbia and other campuses echo 1968 and opposition to the Vietnam war. The kids even took over the same building at Columbia, Hamilton Hall. But the mass-protest method has become the political default for progressives when they lose the policy debate in Congress, the White House, the courts, or other institutions. They keep going to the barricades because it often gets them what they want.

The clearest example was the post-George Floyd riots of 2020. The left used that murder to trigger, and then condone, riots in numerous cities against what they claimed was widespread police abuse. Looting and vandalism were justified as social-justice rage.

Fearful of these protests, Democratic mayors and city councils around the country slashed police funding, eliminated cash bail, and stopped enforcing many crimes. Vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted support for a bail fund for protesters who were arrested in Minnesota. The Democratic convention in 2020 failed to condemn the rioting.

One result was an urban crime spree that broke out across the country, and cities from Philadelphia to San Francisco are still trying to recover. But in that election year the mob created the impression of disorder that probably hurt Donald Trump’s campaign for re-election. Political mission accomplished.

Post-Vietnam, a watershed of this mob method was the assault by the organized left against the World Trade Organization conference in Seattle in 1999. The riots put the “antiglobalization” movement on the political map and, anticipating the protests, the Clinton Administration issued an executive order to include environmental reviews in trade deals.

The so-called “occupy” protests in 2011 included encampments in public places in numerous cities, including lower Manhattan. The goal was to focus on income inequality, and Democrats were again loath to push back and slow to clear public spaces. The “occupiers” succeeded in changing the debate inside the Democratic Party in favor of much higher taxes and income redistribution.

Now, in this election year, the student protesters are trying to change American Middle East policy. They may not know much about the region, its history, or even that Hamas’s charter calls for annihilating Jews. But they are swept up in the anti-colonialist, anti-Western, anti-American themes that now dominate so much university instruction. They are the intellectual children of Frantz Fanon.

They are also changing the political debate inside the Democratic Party. President Biden has shifted from the strong pro-Israel stand he took immediately after the Oct. 7 massacre. He now opposes the destruction of Hamas in its Rafah redoubt in Gaza. And he is publicly critical of Israel’s coalition wartime government. This accommodation will encourage the protesters to continue even once college exams are over and students return home. As in 1968, the Chicago convention will be a target.


All of this bodes ill for the country’s political future, not least if Mr. Trump wins in November. The protests are likely to be widespread and perhaps violent if the election is close. Democrats and the press keep warning about a repeat of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, which was a disgrace and for which hundreds have been rightly punished. But the political left is more organized for mass protests and more likely to take to the streets.

Today’s campus eruptions may be aimed at U.S. policy in the Middle East, but they are a symptom of a larger trend toward street protest and law-breaking to achieve political goals. Political and other leaders have a duty to call this out and enforce public order, whether the violators are on the left or right.

Main Street: Joe Biden may be in for a rerun of 1968, with a ruinous Democratic Chicago convention. Image: Jaime Carrero/ZUMA Press Wire


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Appeared in the May 1, 2024, print edition as 'America’s New Mob Rule'. 


At U.C.L.A., Israel supporters are making themselves known.

Here are the latest developments.

Hundreds of police officers in riot gear arrested pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Columbia University on Tuesday night, about 20 hours after protesters had seized a campus building. The occupation further escalated the crisis that has consumed the school and ignited student activism on dozens of campuses nationwide.

The officers broke a second-floor window to enter the occupied building, Hamilton Hall, then led demonstrators in zip ties onto law enforcement buses parked near campus. In a statement, the university said the building had been “vandalized and blockaded,” leaving administrators with “no choice” but to call the police to campus for the second time in less than two weeks.

“We will not risk the safety of our community or the potential for further escalation,” the statement added.

Columbia’s president, Nemat Shafik, said in a letter to the New York Police Department that her decision to request its intervention had been made with the support of the university’s trustees, and that the actions of demonstrators “have become a magnet for protesters outside our gates, which creates significant risk to our campus.”

She asked the police to maintain a presence on campus through at least May 17 to prevent further encampments or occupations.

What to know about Columbia:

  • The latest action came nearly two weeks after the police arrested more than 100 protesters who had set up tents on the Upper Manhattan campus.

  • The arrests on April 18 outraged many faculty members and students, who almost immediately pitched new tents. Since then, the encampment has grown to be larger than the original.

  • The university closed the campus Tuesday to everyone but students who live there, as well as employees who provide essential services, and said it would move to expel any students who had occupied Hamilton Hall, a building with a history of student takeovers.

What’s happening elsewhere:

  • Clashes over the war in Gaza continued to escalate Tuesday, with police officers pepper spraying protesters to prevent the takeover of a building at the City College of New York. Pepper spray was also used this week on demonstrators in Richmond, Va., and Austin, Texas.

  • In Oregon, demonstrators who took over a library at Portland State overnight used wood pallets and other supplies to erect fortifications around the building’s entrance. University officials on Tuesday urged them to leave the library, which was covered in pro-Palestinian messages, and requested help from the police.

  • Police officers moved into an encampment at U.N.C. Chapel Hill early Tuesday and arrested about 30 people, school officials said. Protesters returned later in the day, mowing down a barrier to rejoin the encampment and replacing an American flag at the center of campus with a Palestinian one.

  • There were signs that the disruption might be waning elsewhere. The police managed to end the eight-day occupation of an administration building at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, and Brown students dismantled their encampment after administrators agreed to consider their demands.

  • More than 1,000 protesters have been taken into custody on U.S. campuses since the original roundup at Columbia on April 18, according to a tally by The New York Times. Here’s where the arrests have happened.

Reporting was contributed by Mike Baker, Kimberly Cortez, J. David Goodman, Claire Fahy, Jose Quezada, Jonathan Wolfe and John Yoon

April 30, 2024, 10:25 p.m. ET
7 minutes ago

Olivia Bensimon

Reporting from Columbia University

A second bus filled with arrested protesters just drove off on West 114th Street. The protesters are seated with their hands ziptied behind their backs. “Free Palestine!” one yells from the back row. As the bus turns onto Amsterdam Avenue, a crowd of people cheers and claps for the protesters.

Credit... Dave Sanders for The New York Times 30, 2024, 10:23 p.m. ET
8 minutes ago

Connor Michael Greene

Reporting from Columbia University

A group of roughly 100 police officers are dispersing the last of the protesters on campus, as the last chant on main campus ends. Some are being pushed by officers. One woman has been arrested for not leaving.

Eryn Davis

Reporting from the campus of Columbia University

A cluster of police officers at Columbia remains outside the entrance of Hamilton Hall. A little more than a dozen protesters continue to chant in the rain from the other side of the building.

Credit... Dave Sanders for The New York Times
April 30, 2024, 10:08 p.m. ET
24 minutes ago

Olivia Bensimon

Reporting from Columbia University

Carlos Nieves, the police department's assistant commissioner of public information, told a gaggle of reporters outside Columbia's campus that “no tear gas was used inside the campus.” He added for emphasis, “The N.Y.P.D. does not use tear gas.”

April 30, 2024, 9:57 p.m. ET
34 minutes ago

At the University of California, Los Angeles, the sprawling pro-Palestinian encampment stands out for at least two reasons: its tight cordon of metal barriers and wooden pallets — and the daily presence of counterprotesters waving Israeli flags.

Few campuses have had dueling protests as intense as the ones at U.C.L.A. ever since demonstrators established their encampment Thursday in the shadow of Royce Hall, the signature brick building whose towers have graced many a school brochure.

The faceoffs have tested the patience of U.C.L.A. leaders, who are following a systemwide policy of avoiding law enforcement action unless “absolutely necessary to protect the physical safety of our campus community.” That approach stands in contrast to campuses like the University of Southern California across town and the University of Texas at Austin, where protesters have been arrested for refusing to leave.

On Sunday, the Israeli American Council, which has denounced pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses as “overtly antisemitic,” hosted a rally at U.C.L.A. that drew thousands of people. Organizers set up a stage and a large screen near the pro-Palestinian encampment, then led prayers, hosted speakers and welcomed performers who sang Israeli pop songs.

But tempers also flared, with shouting matches and scuffles between the two sides, including altercations after an encampment barrier was breached.

“UCLA has a long history of being a place of peaceful protest, and we are heartbroken about the violence that broke out,” Mary Osako, the university’s vice chancellor for strategic communications, said in a statement that day, vowing to increase security.

On Monday night, another fight broke out between two groups of protesters after about 60 pro-Israel demonstrators attempted to enter the pro-Palestinian encampment. Campus police had to break up the dispute.

“While the demonstration remains largely peaceful, our campus must remain a place where we treat one another with respect and recognize our shared humanity — not a place where we devolve into violence and bullying,” Ms. Osako said in another statement.

Pro-Israeli protesters began arriving at the encampment almost immediately after it was first set up. For the past several days, they have waved Israeli flags, spoken through megaphones, played music through loudspeakers and held up images of some of the hostages captured by Hamas on Oct. 7.

Several protesters wearing kaffiyehs have serious looks on their faces while looking at a bald man with a stern composure who is wearing a black shirt that has an American flag.
Pro-Palestinian protesters have come face to face daily with Israel supporters at the University of California, Los Angeles. Credit... Mark Abramson for The New York Times

On Tuesday, a large screen near the encampment played footage from the Hamas-led terrorist attack on Israel. At noon, a plane flying a “Jewish Lives Matter” banner circled the campus.

Many Jewish groups say the campus protests have created a climate hostile toward Jewish students. The Israeli American Council has responded by holding “support rallies” across the nation similar to the one Sunday at U.C.L.A., including events in Atlanta and Orange County, Calif., on Wednesday.

Asher Taxon, a freshman at U.C.L.A. who is Jewish, said the Sunday rally gave him a much-needed boost.

“It was great, it felt like we’re still here and that they can’t get rid of us,” Mr. Taxon said. “It was nice seeing other Jews and Israelis singing and dancing and showing that we are supported.”

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators said Tuesday that the daily counter-demonstrations at U.C.L.A. had been emotionally and mentally exhausting.

The “actions and behavior of these counterprotesters is indicative of the treatment of the people on the ground in Gaza,” said Kaia Shah, a researcher and recent U.C.L.A. graduate. “What this has done to the people in our encampment is made them even more passionate about our cause.”

By Tuesday afternoon, a truckload of additional metal gates arrived near the encampment site. It was not immediately clear who had provided them.

 30, 2024, 6:30 p.m. ET
4 hours ago

Brown students end their encampment as the university agrees to talk divestment.

Two students embracing in front of a tent outside.
Students embracing as they begin to dissolve the encampment on the Main Green at Brown University in Providence, R.I., on Tuesday. Credit... C.J. Gunther/EPA, via Shutterstock

As pro-Palestinian protests continued to escalate across the country, officials and students at Brown University set a rare example on Tuesday: They made a deal.

Demonstrators agreed to dismantle their encampment at Brown, which had been removed by Tuesday evening, and university leaders said they would discuss, and later vote on, divesting funds from companies connected to the Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

The agreement came even as scenes of chaos continued to overtake U.S. universities, with protesters at Columbia in New York and Portland State in Oregon occupying buildings, and demonstrators at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill replacing an American flag at the center of campus with a Palestinian one.

More than a thousand people have been arrested over the past two weeks after a crackdown on a pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia in New York resulted in a cascade of student activism across the country.

At Brown, in Providence, R.I., students began pitching tents on the main campus lawn on Wednesday. Many said they would stay until they were forced out, adding that they were concerned about trying to end the violence in Gaza — not about violating university policies.

After discussions with administrators, Brown Divest Coalition and Jewish Voice for Peace said in a joint post on Instagram that they had reached an agreement with the university, which “would not have been possible without the hard work of university encampments across the country, whose collective power has forced university administrators to acknowledge the overwhelming support for Palestine on their campuses.”

The agreement lays out a series of steps for the months ahead:

  • In May, five students will meet with five members of the Corporation of Brown University to argue for divesting funds from companies connected to the Israeli military.

  • In September, Brown’s advisory committee on resource management will be expected to advise the university on the same issue.

  • In October, the committee’s recommendation will be brought to the corporation for a vote.

“Although the encampment will end, organizing to ensure that the Brown administration fulfills our calls to act on divestment will continue until the corporation vote in October,” the Brown Divest Coalition said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This feels like a real moment of realizing our collective power,” said Rafi Ash, a sophomore at Brown who participated in the protests. “This is something that demonstrates that the mobilization of the student body can force the university to listen.”

A spokesman for Brown, Brian Clark, said that divestment was not as simple as some students might perceive, though. The university doesn’t invest its endowment directly, he said. Instead, it relies on “external specialist investment managers, all with the highest level of ethics and all whom we believe share the values of the Brown community.”

Administrators said in a statement that it would still hold disciplinary proceedings related to the encampment, which broke the university’s rules. Reports of harassment and discrimination will also be investigated, the statement said.

“The devastation and loss of life in the Middle East has prompted many to call for meaningful change, while also raising real issues about how best to accomplish this,” Christina H. Paxson, Brown’s president, said in the statement, adding that she did not condone the encampment and had been concerned about inflammatory rhetoric.

“I appreciate the sincere efforts on the part of our students to take steps to prevent further escalation,” she said.

Gaya Gupta contributed reporting.

Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, speaking before a Senate panel, calls campus antisemitism ‘abhorrent.’

A tent encampment at Columbia University.
A student encampment at Columbia University in New York on Monday. Credit... Bing Guan for The New York Times

Education Secretary Miguel A. Cardona said on Tuesday that the threats against Jewish students reported at Columbia and other colleges were “abhorrent” and that his department would continue to pursue more than 130 investigations into complaints of harassment.

Testifying before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee about the Education Department’s budget requests, Mr. Cardona ran into pointed questions about campus protests over the war in Gaza.

“Hate has no place on our campuses, and I’m very concerned with the reports of antisemitism,” he said. “I’ve spoken to Jewish students who have feared going to class as a result of some of the harassment that they’re facing on campuses.”

“It’s unacceptable,” he added.

Under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the Education Department is responsible for enforcing a prohibition against discrimination based on “race, color or national origin” at any institution that receives federal assistance. Mr. Cardona stressed on Tuesday that the department’s Office for Civil Rights was investigating the complaints it had received.

But some Republicans on the subcommittee complained that the pace of the investigations, which require extensive interviews and can take months to resolve, was inappropriately slow and encouraged Mr. Cardona to take punitive actions.

“I mean, that’s good; I’m glad you’re doing that,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, the subcommittee’s top Republican. “But you have more immediate means at your disposal, for instance removing federal funds.”

Mr. Cardona replied, “Ultimately, if a school refuses to comply with Title VI, yes, we would remove federal dollars.”

The department does not comment on open Title VI investigations, and the 137 investigations that Mr. Cardona cited on Tuesday almost certainly include a mix of complaints about antisemitism and anti-Arab or anti-Muslim harassment at various institutions.

But as campus protests have erupted across the country in recent days, it has fallen predominately to college administrators to enforce campus codes, hand down punishments and make difficult decisions about how to balance students’ freedoms of expression and assembly with campus safety considerations.

And while Republicans in Congress have repeatedly sought to highlight antisemitic threats, demanding answers from the presidents of Columbia, Harvard and other schools as well as top administration officials, the Education Department has repeatedly warned of heated rhetoric turning into violence or discrimination against students of all backgrounds, including Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab and Palestinian students.

 30, 2024, 5:11 p.m. ET
5 hours ago

Tensions rise at U.N.C. Chapel Hill after dozens of pro-Palestinian demonstrators are detained.

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Protesters at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, clashed with police officers working to restore an American flag that the demonstrators had replaced with a Palestinian one. Credit Credit... Bryan Anderson

Pro-Palestinian demonstrations at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill turned chaotic on Tuesday, hours after dozens of students were detained for refusing to leave an encampment they had set up over the weekend outside Wilson Library on campus.

By the afternoon, several hundred students had broken through the barriers keeping them out of the encampment, erupting in chants of “Free Palestine” and calling on the university to divest from investments that support Israel.

The scene escalated when protesters replaced an American flag in the center of campus with a Palestinian one, and demonstrators reportedly threw water on law enforcement officers and school officials as they tried to restore the U.S. flag back onto the pole.

“It’s clear that the university has chosen its side,” said Shahad Mustafa, a 21-year-old senior who began to flee as officers approached the flagpole. “They are choosing to still support Israel regardless of what their students are saying. They are showing us that they are willing to use violence and willing to lie.”

School officials said 36 protesters had been detained after they were given until 6 a.m. on Tuesday to clear out from the encampment or face possible arrest, suspension or expulsion. Of those, 30 people, including 10 university students, were cited for trespassing and released. Six more, including three students, were booked on trespassing charges at the county jail.

On the other end of the quad on Tuesday afternoon, a handful of students held Israeli flags. Trevor Lan, a Jewish student who stood with the group, told The News & Observer of Raleigh, N.C., that the encampment and recent protests marked the first time he felt “threatened” on campus.

“They took down the U.S. flag,” Mr. Lan told the news outlet. “For those of you who didn’t care about Israel and didn’t care about the Jewish people, look at it now. This is what this evolves into.”

The clashes at U.N.C. Chapel Hill came as North Carolina was still mourning the death of four officers who were killed a day earlier trying to serve arrests warrants to a man in Charlotte, about two hours away, in what was one of the deadliest shootouts for American law enforcement in recent years.

Four other officers were also wounded. Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina had ordered all flags at half-staff to honor the slain officers.

On Tuesday, the lieutenant governor, Mark Robinson, criticized the U.N.C. Chapel Hill protesters and their actions as “nonsense” that “should never have happened to begin with.”

“Especially after what we saw last night in Charlotte, our police officers need to be treated with respect, and lawlessness needs to end,” said Mr. Robinson, a Republican who is running for North Carolina governor.

More than 1,000 demonstrators have been arrested on campuses across the country after a crackdown on demonstrators at Columbia University in New York this month spawned a wave of activism at universities.

Anna Betts contributed reporting.



Biden, Democrats Under Growing Pressure as College Protests Intensify

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(8 minutes)

WASHINGTON—The wave of pro-Palestinian demonstrations across U.S. colleges has created a growing political headache for President Biden and congressional Democrats, who find themselves splintered between one group pushing to rein in the protests and another defending activists’ rights to keep up the pressure on Israel policy.

Campus tensions over the Israel-Hamas war have also created an opening for Republicans to paint Democrats as the party of chaos and dysfunction, particularly with students and parents facing uncertainty heading into exam and graduation season. The protests have fueled charges that colleges aren’t effectively addressing antisemitism as well as raising concerns about police arrests and disciplinary actions against students and faculty.

The overnight occupation of an academic building at Columbia University further raised the stakes, sparking administration officials to step up their criticism of some activists. Biden, who didn’t answer questions from reporters Tuesday afternoon, has taken a cautious approach in his comments, last week condemning both “antisemitic protests” and “those who don’t understand what’s going on with the Palestinians.” 

John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, said Tuesday that Biden believes that “forcibly taking over a building on campus is absolutely the wrong approach, that is not an example of peaceful protest.” He said a “small percentage of students shouldn’t be able to disrupt the academic experience, the legitimate study for the rest of the student body.”


In testimony in front of a Senate subcommittee on Tuesday, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona was pressed on what he thought about harassment of students on campus. 

“What’s happening on our campuses is abhorrent,” Cardona said. He said he has spoken to Jewish students who fear going to class, and the department has reached out to colleges about their obligations to protect students. He said that if schools fail to comply with federal antidiscrimination laws, they put their federal funding at risk.

Many tents remained up in the pro-Palestinian encampment at Columbia University after the school asked students to disband the encampment by 2 p.m. on Monday. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty

The latest developments underscore how the war continues to pose challenges for Biden at home, as he navigates divisions within the Democratic Party over Israel and faces what is expected to be a tight re-election campaign against Republican former President Donald Trump in the fall. 

“How in the world, as president of the United States, can you sit on the fence and allow this antisemitic behavior to go on?’’ said Rep. Drew Ferguson (R., Ga.). 

At a press conference Tuesday, Speaker Mike Johnson (R., La.) criticized both Biden and college presidents and said House GOP committees would be scrutinizing federal funding of universities and visas for foreign students. 


In remarks Tuesday to reporters, Trump called the unrest at colleges the “Biden protests” and criticized the president’s reticence. “He’s got to make a statement. Colleges are being overrun,” Trump said. 

Trump’s own presidency was damaged in 2017 when a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., resulted in the death of a counterprotester. In his own comments at the time, Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides.” During the Black Lives Matter protests in many Democratic-run cities, Republicans pointed to the unrest to portray an image of disorder under Democrats’ watch.

Biden’s campaign pushed back against the notion that he wasn’t adequately responding to the protests.

“While Donald Trump stood proudly with white supremacists and encouraged violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators, Joe Biden defends our First Amendment and strengthened protections against antisemitism and Islamophobia,” Biden campaign spokeswoman Lauren Hitt said. 


Pro-Palestinian protesters link arms around campers at Washington University’s campus in St. Louis, Mo. Photo: Christine Tannous/st. louis post-dispatch/Associated Press
Police arrest Pro-Palestinian protesters who set up an encampment at the Emory Campus in Atlanta. Photo: Arvin Temkar/atlanta journal constitution/Zuma Press

Progressives emphasize that most of the pro-Palestinian protests have been peaceful and include some Jewish students. They remain angry with the administration for not taking a harder line with Israel on its actions in Gaza, a monthslong siege that has also taken a heavy toll on civilians. The pro-Palestinian protesters have been calling for a cease-fire, an end to U.S. aid to Israel and for their colleges to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

“To just, with a broad brush, say that these protests are antisemitic is wrong,’’ said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D., Wash.), chair of the progressive caucus.

“Protesting war is not antisemitism, it’s a display of our free speech rights,” said Rep. Mark Pocan (D., Wis.), citing the role of demonstrations in helping to end the Vietnam War.

But some Democrats are alarmed by what they see as antisemitism emanating from the protests. A group of 21 House Democrats on Monday wrote a letter to Columbia’s board of trustees calling on the school leaders to disband the protesters’ encampment, which they called “a breeding ground for antisemitic attacks.” 


“The party is divided on this, it’s been divided on this, you can see the statements, it’s a shame,” Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D., Fla.), who signed the letter. 

The daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) was arrested earlier in April during a protest at Columbia. In a visit to the campus last week, the congresswoman told a reporter that all Jewish students should be kept safe—“whether they are pro-genocide or anti-genocide.” Her comment suggesting that some students back genocide caused an uproar. 

Rep. Pete Aguilar (D., Calif.), a member of party leadership, said the comment wasn’t helpful. 

“It’s not the language I would have chosen,” he told reporters Tuesday. “I think we all have an obligation to turn the temperature down.”


Speaker Mike Johnson said House GOP committees would be scrutinizing federal funding of universities and visas for foreign students. Photo: Stefan Jeremiah/Associated Press

Republicans plan to highlight Democratic division with a House bill this week called the Antisemitism Awareness Act. Some moderate Democrats are expected to join with Republicans to pass the measure aimed at cracking down on allegations of antisemitism on campus. Critics say it is overly broad and steps on free-speech rights.

The legislation would require the Education Department to use the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism when enforcing federal antidiscrimination laws. The IHRA definition, which includes “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis,” has been criticized by some groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, on free speech grounds for equating criticism of the Israeli government with antisemitism.

Israel’s offensive in Gaza has brought its population to the brink of famine and killed more than 34,000 people, according to Palestinian authorities. Authorities in Gaza say most of the dead are women and children. The Hamas-led assault on Israel on Oct. 7 left about 1,200 people dead—most of them civilians—according to Israeli authorities. Hamas seized hostages during that attack, some of whom are still being held in Gaza.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said the protest movement reflects the “profound feelings that many people have at the suffering that so many people are enduring.” But he also lamented that the protesters weren’t more critical of Hamas and its role in the conflict.


Even as the Biden administration has been increasingly at odds with their Israeli counterparts over the direction of the war, the U.S. government has continued to provide arms to Israel. Last week, Biden signed a foreign aid package that included $26 billion for Israel and humanitarian aid for Gaza and other places.

Polling suggests the Middle-East conflict doesn’t rank as a priority for most Americans, but Biden aides acknowledge that even a small percentage of voters staying at home or voting third party could impact his re-election prospects. 

“It’s the lens through which many disaffected Democrats are evaluating Biden today, and that fact reinforces the point that the status quo is unsustainable here,” said Democratic pollster Jeff Horwitt of Hart Research Associates. He said that while the overriding issues for young voters were still inflation and the cost of living, Biden needed to win over young voters in particular given they were critical to his victory in 2020.

“They believe that how he’s handled this to date is not what they thought they were getting in a president that many of them voted for,” Horwitt said.

Natalie Andrews, Gordon Lubold and Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.

Write to Sabrina Siddiqui at and Lindsay Wise at

Conflict in the Middle East

Latest news and key analysis, selected by editors

 On Columbia University and Coach Handbags


(5 min)

A Palestinian flag raised above the encampment area at Columbia University in New York, April 25. Photo: Syndi Pilar/Zuma Press

Accessible luxury. That’s how the Federal Trade Commission described the market for Coach, Kate Spade and Michael Kors handbags in an antitrust lawsuit last week. It’s also an apt epithet for elite universities.

Consumers pay hefty prices for accessible luxury handbags not because they’re of superior quality but because their brands indicate status. The same is true of the Ivy League, which, like purveyors of expensive purses, uses selective discounting—financial aid—to make its product accessible to those who aspire to a higher status.

A Columbia degree is a lot like a Coach handbag in this regard. Would consumers and high-school students endure pocketbook pain if their once-desired products lost their prestige? Probably not.

It may be premature to call the anti-Israel protests and assaults on Jewish students on campuses across the country a tipping point. But scenes that recall “Lord of the Flies”—where the universities’ “best and brightest” are behaving like barbarians—are prompting employers, parents and high-school students to rethink the value of their degrees.

Elite universities benefit from a reinforcing feedback loop. The cream of the high-school crop aspire to attend because they expect a degree will earn them entry into the highest professional and social echelons. An education from Columbia is no better than one from many flagship state colleges such as the University of South Carolina in Columbia. But the Ivy League’s brand is held in high esteem by employers.

Parents pay big bucks to send their kids to these colleges because they think they will be surrounded by other smart and sophisticated students. Prestigious employers are more likely to hire grads from such universities, who they assume are intelligent and conscientious.

study last fall by Harvard and Brown professors found that attending an elite college—an Ivy League school, the University of Chicago, Duke, Stanford or MIT—instead of a selective public university increased a student’s likelihood of reaching the top 1% of the earnings distribution by 60%. It also nearly tripled his odds of working at a prestigious firm.

Graduates of these elite colleges make up nearly half of Rhodes Scholars, 26.1% of journalists at the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and 71.4% of Supreme Court justices appointed since 1967. Buying a college degree for its brand has historically paid off for students. The payoff will shrink if employers think less of the brand.

Elite colleges are supposed to separate the wheat from the chaff in their application process. They are, however, increasingly selecting students for traits that many employers don’t want, such as a passion for progressive activism.

Stanford University in 2017 admitted Ziad Ahmed, who in response to the application prompt “What matters to you, and why?” wrote “#BlackLivesMatter” 100 times. “Everyone who reviewed your application was inspired by your passion, determination, accomplishments and heart,” the university’s acceptance letter read. “You are, quite simply, a fantastic match with Stanford.” Mr. Ahmed decided Yale was a better match for him.

Elite colleges also may have devalued their degrees in the eyes of employers during the pandemic when they made submitting SAT and ACT scores optional. This had the effect of lowering admissions standards, resulting in the enrollment of less academically qualified students. A recent study by Brown and Dartmouth professors found that the academic performance of college students at elite universities who didn’t submit standardized test scores was equivalent to those who scored 1307 on the SAT—more than 200 points lower than the average score at most Ivy Leagues.

Professors at Dartmouth also found that “under a test-optional policy, about 31% of enrolled students have not submitted a score, and most of the missing mass of the distribution is at a score of 1450 and below.” This suggests that the test-score ranges colleges report are inflated, and that their students’ performance has fallen in recent years.

Dartmouth and some other Ivy League schools recently abandoned their test-optional policies after finding that they harmed less-affluent students whom admissions officers rated lower on fuzzier “personal” attributes. But might test-optional policies also have resulted in admitting more of the ignorant activists now marching for the destruction of Israel?

When Americans picture Ivy League students, they don’t see savants. In many cases, they imagine sloths, bigots and bullies. Don’t be surprised if many parents no longer are willing to spend a small fortune for their children to attend school with know-nothings—or if employers think twice about hiring Ivy League alumni.

I graduated from Stanford in 2009, before young leftists turned belligerent and censorious en masse. While I don’t regret attending, I wonder whether I’d make the same choice today. Being in the ideological minority can toughen your skin, but today’s campus bullies can also beat students down. Is the abuse worth it?

Remember: A Coach handbag is a status symbol only if people think it is. The same is true for a Columbia degree.

WSJ Opinion: Lessons in Transgender Ideology from the Cass Review
Journal Editorial Report: The week's best and worst from Kim Strassel, Kyle Peterson and Dan Henninger. Image: Michael Reynolds/Shutterstock


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Appeared in the April 29, 2024, print edition as 'On Columbia University and Coach Handbags'.



Hezbollah Stumbles Into a War of Attrition


David Daoud


Hezbollah fighters raise their flags during a funeral in Southern Lebanon, April 17. Photo: Mohammed Zaatari/Associated Press

Hezbollah, Iran’s most formidable proxy, barely lifted a finger when its patron fired more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel in the early hours of April 14. The Lebanese group fired a few dozen rockets but claimed it was in retaliation not for Israel’s killing Iranian Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Zahedi on April 1—Tehran’s point man in Lebanon and Syria—but for other airstrikes in southern Lebanon. The relative inaction was deliberate.

Hezbollah began attacking northern Israel on Oct. 8 to support Hamas, whose rampage killed some 1,200 Israelis and was soon to provoke an armed response. Yet by attacking Israel, Hezbollah embroiled itself in a war of attrition that it neither envisioned nor wanted. The fighting, according to the group’s tally, has cost it nearly 300 men, exposed its arsenal in Lebanon to Israeli attacks, and displaced thousands of its supporters.

The terror group is now stuck between its bellicose rhetoric and its fear of a popular backlash if it provokes a more intense confrontation with Israel. Though Hezbollah has vowed to fight until a cease-fire in Gaza, its response to Zahedi’s death shows it is looking for a way out of the clashes that are harming it more than its adversary.


Zahedi was a pivotal figure in the decadeslong relationship between Tehran and Hezbollah. A general in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force, he was charged with building the regime’s proxies in the Levant. Zahedi served alongside Hezbollah during critical moments in its history, including the years before Israel’s May 2000 withdrawal from south Lebanon, the Syrian civil war, and the current skirmishes with Israel. These efforts reportedly earned him the honor of being the only non-Lebanese member of Hezbollah’s Shura Council, its supreme decision-making body.

Hezbollah has vowed that Zahedi’s death will be avenged but insisted that vengeance belongs to Iran alone. “Be absolutely certain,” thundered Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in April, “Iranian retaliation for the attack on the consulate is coming, inevitably, upon Israel. This strike is coming and inevitable.” With each insistence, Mr. Nasrallah seemed to be emphasizing: The attacks will come from Iran—not us.

Hezbollah’s hesitation is owing in part to the poverty and chaos that have engulfed Lebanon in recent years. The country’s economy imploded in 2019 and hasn’t fully recovered. Lebanese citizens, including Hezbollah’s supporters, struggle to get food, electricity and other necessities.

While Hezbollah boasts significant military capabilities, it is nevertheless constrained for fear of public reprisal. The group has pulled its punches since October 2019, even as Israel has periodically crossed its red lines, either by killing fighters in Syria or by striking inside Lebanon. Its leaders are wary of the Lebanese street, whose financial miseries would only worsen if Hezbollah’s fighting provoked a conflagration with Israel. To conceal this predicament from its political base, Hezbollah exaggerates its successes and Israel’s weaknesses.


The group entered the fray on Oct. 8, likely hoping Israel’s preoccupation with Gaza and Western opposition to a simultaneous war in Lebanon would blunt the Israel Defense Forces’ retaliation. This would allow Hezbollah’s forces to project strength without incurring a proportionate cost. Tellingly, Hezbollah leaders have said repeatedly they don’t want a wider war with Israel but that they are ready for one.

Israel, for its part, hasn’t appreciated this rare opportunity to dictate advantageous rules of the game on its northern border. Though it is the stronger party, Jerusalem has allowed Hezbollah to define the terms of conflict to the terrorists’ benefit. Hezbollah fought the most intense phase of the Syrian civil war between 2011 and 2017 while casting only a wary gaze southward. It then embarked on recouping its losses in blood and treasure with relative ease. The group’s arsenal inside Lebanon has ballooned, and its political and social power has become nearly uncontestable.

Israel’s restraint has seemed to confirm Hezbollah’s larger argument about the Jewish state—that the “Zionist entity” is “weaker than a spider’s web” deterred by the resistance’s ability to destroy it. The group has thus been able to expand popular support, the cornerstone of its strength and durability.

The Israelis for years have been content to manage Hezbollah, willing to delay the limited confrontation necessary to gain the upper hand and avoid the international community’s opprobrium. Yet Oct. 7 demonstrated the lethal risk of trying to manage an opponent that is simultaneously planning to launch an attack at the right moment.

Notwithstanding its hesitations, Hezbollah has no intention of ending its pursuit of Israel’s destruction. By coupling a Gaza cease-fire with one in Lebanon, the group is essentially asking to be spared until its domestic situation, and those of its patron and allies, is more stable and its capabilities more lethal—ideally under an Iranian nuclear umbrella.

Israel therefore must press its advantage and exploit Hezbollah’s mistake of launching a war of attrition. Whatever happens in Gaza, Jerusalem must continue to hit the group and its assets, especially in Lebanon. If Israel accepts a cease-fire with Hezbollah, the group will continue to build its war machine until it is ready to use it to imperil the Jewish state once more.

Mr. Daoud is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Wonder Land: In 1986, Sen. Joe Biden mocked as ‘reckless’ Ronald Reagan's 'Strategic Defense Initiative,' a program to counter the ballistic missile threat. Israel ran with it, creating the 'Iron Dome' missile-defense system—the hero of Iran’s April 13 bombardment. Images: Bloomberg News/C-Span/Bettmann Archive Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the April 30, 2024, print edition as 'Hezbollah Stumbles Into a War of Attrition'.