3 times the kids got it very wrong



Last week, I published a post titled, “Are Students on the Right Side of History? (Not Always).” The purpose of the post was to dispute the widely-circulated claim — by politicians, by student leaders, by activists, by the media — that students protest movements are usually on the right side of history or that students are usually “ahead of their time.” Empirically speaking, this is simply not true.

The post was met with a ton of vitriol. Commenters and DMers kept moving the goalposts: those protests were different because they had the backing of the state and police, they were different because they weren’t as wide in scale, they were different because these were white supremacists, they were different because standing up against the oppressor is always right.

(Never mind that this last commenter unfortunately displayed absolutely no curiosity as to why, exactly, he considers “Zionists” the oppressor, without considering the historical context that every antisemite in human history has considered Jews — or their euphemism of choice — the oppressor, and that there are other “oppressors” at play here; namely, the most oppressive regimes in the entire Middle East).

I hope that with this more in-depth post, I can better illustrate the fact that these cases are not so different, after all. Time and time again, students have been swept up in dangerous and hateful movements, often in opposition to the “oppressor,” and ended up causing even more harm. 



Prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, up to 86% of Americans were isolationists, meaning that they wanted the United States to stay out of World War II. Nevertheless, Americans were well-aware of Hitler’s policies toward Jews; following the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, which set the groundwork for the Final Solution, 94% of Americans disapproved of the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. Even so, 71% of Americans did not want to absorb Jewish refugees, once again illustrating that opposition to Nazis and support for Jews is not necessarily the same thing. 

The American isolationist movement was led by the America First Committee, whose membership of 850,000 included Republicans, Democrats, communists, anti-communists, journalists, and yes, students. Many in the AFC, including spokesperson Charles Lindbergh, courted the Nazis and expressed pro-fascist and antisemitic views. 

The AFC portrayed its isolationism as “anti-war,” whereas in reality, the prominent members’ links to Hitler and the Nazi regime are well-documented. Like the so-called “pro-Palestine” protestors, the AFC publicly “disavowed” antisemitism, while dividing American Jews into “good Jews” and “bad Jews.” 

As Lindbergh stated in a September 1941 Des Moines speech, “Instead of agitating for war, the Jewish groups in this country should be opposing it in every possible way for they will be among the first to feel its consequences…A few far-sighted Jewish people realize this and stand opposed to intervention. But the majority still do not…I am saying that the leaders of…the Jewish races…wish to involve us in the war.”

Can you see the disturbing parallels? 



In 1964, the then Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, exiled Ruhollah Khomeini and banned his books. As such, the vast majority of the Iranian population was unfamiliar with his more extremist beliefs. While in exile in France, Khomeini downplayed his fundamentalism, presenting himself to the west merely as a fierce opponent of American neo-imperialism and influence in Iran. It was in this manner that he was able to manipulate Iranian leftists — primarily students — to join him under his banner. In reality, Khomeini despised leftism, and soon after he came to power, many left-wing organizations had to flee Iran.

Universities in Iran became centers of political fervor and opposition to the Shah and American imperialism. Students chanted “Death to America!” and “death to Israel!” and took to the streets. The fervor was such that it was Iranian students that barricaded the American embassy and instigated the 444-day-long Iran hostage crisis. “When we took over the embassy, we were so convinced of the justice of our cause that nothing could stand in our way,” Massoumeh Ebtekar, one of the students involved in the standoff, later noted. 

Soon after Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, however, he arrested, tortured, exiled, and even murdered thousands of students and professors who did not align with his fundamentalist Islamist regime. This is precisely what would happen to the majority of students now protesting on behalf of Hamas, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and the Islamic Republic of Iran.

In 2019, Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, a student leader during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, noted with regret, “Like Jesus Christ, I bear all the sins on my shoulders.” 

Can you see the disturbing parallels? 



In 1966, Mao Zedong mobilized a student group known as the Red Guards to carry out his Cultural Revolution. The Red Guards, which was established at Beijing University and initially only served as a student group to debate “bourgeois ideas in culture,” had as many as 10 million members. The group grew more and more radicalized and militant, eventually helping Mao seize power, destroy all opposition, and destroy symbols of pre-communist China. 

Though they’d been supported by Mao, the students quickly spiraled out of control, culminating in acts of violence that took the lives of thousands, and in the end, even Mao found them too radical. The Red Guards were so overzealous that they even tortured, raped, and cannibalized those that they deemed “counterrevolutionary.” Even slight deviation from the accepted party line was cause for ostracism and punishment. 

Like the Iranian students who participated in the Iranian Revolution, many former Red Guards have come to regret their actions. “We became Red Guards [because] we all shared the belief that we would die to protect Chairman Mao,” Yu Xiangzhen, a former Red Guard, said in 2016. “Even though it might be dangerous, that was absolutely what we had to do.”

One man, Paul Kessler, was already murdered by a university professor at a “pro-Palestine” protest, and many Jewish students have been assaulted at these “pro-Palestine” encampments. It’s concerning to see the increasing militarization of these student protests. For example, at Columbia University, students were encouraged to become martyrs: “Repeat after me: mother of the shahid, mother of the martyr, I wish my mother was in your place.” 




Of course, none of these movements are entirely identical to the “pro-Palestine” protests, but that’s obvious. There is no 1:1 comparison in human history.

“Pro-Palestine” students can swear up, down, and sideways that they are “anti-war” and “anti-genocide,” but when some of the most commonly heard chants at the encampments are “intifada, intifada,” “globalize the intifada,” “there is only one solution, intifada revolution,” and “from water to water, Palestine is Arab,” those are not anti-war, anti-genocide slogans; that’s incitement to violence. When we hear “Hamas, we love you and your rockets too!” or “we say justice, you say how? Burn Tel Aviv to the ground!” these are not peace protests. When Jewish students who don’t fall in line are assaulted, when death threats against Jews are everywhere, when support for the Islamic Republic and its murderous proxies is widespread…well, it doesn’t matter how you describe your protests. These are protests organized by groups with long-established ties to terror organizations and support for massacres of Israelis, including October 7. Like the isolationists of the 1930s and 1940s, you are packaging your support for genocidally antisemitic groups in “anti-war” language. 

You can claim to be “anti-imperialist” all you want, but when you are supporting the biggest imperialist force in the Middle East, the Islamic Republic of Iran, your words ring just as hollow as those of the students during the 1979 Iranian Revolution, who later came to deeply regret their actions. 

You can claim these are “pro-peace” protests, but we see you assaulting Jewish students: with fists, with sticks, with tasers, with water bottles, and more. We see the militarism and radicalization and though we hope it never reaches that point, the Red Guards are a prime example of where this can lead. 

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