Notes from a Liberated Zone

All quiet on a southern campus front

On my way from the bagel place to visit the newest Gaza solidary encampment this morning — at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville — I turned on NPR. In the station’s trademark soothing, dispassionate voice, the anchor painted a picture of a nation of campuses in chaos: Pro-Palestine protesters, he said, had barricaded buildings at Columbia University in New York, and clashed with pro-Israel partisans overnight at the University of California-Los Angeles, in ways that necessitated a strong law-enforcement response.

Hours later, CNN’s Dana Bash significantly upped the ante.We start with destruction, violence, and hate on college campuses across the country,” she told her millions of viewers on Inside Politics. Sure, she admitted, “many of these protests started peacefully with legitimate questions about the war.” But now things had gone too far. The pro-Palestine encampments, she said, were harassing and terrifying Jews, in ways that are “hearkening back to the 1930s in Europe. And I do not say that lightly.”

This sounded serious. I’m Jewish. What horrors were awaiting me at UVA?

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I arrived at the campus’ landmark Rotunda around 10 a.m, and quickly spotted the encampment. A bedsheet painted “Liberated Zone 4 Gaza” fluttered in the wind. A table with coffee and donuts stood in the middle. As I got closer, I could see a circle of undergrads, mostly women, having a quiet organizational meeting. Most wore COVID-19 masks and black and white fishnet keffiyehs as scarves. One student recognized me, and came up to give me a big greeting. The rest couldn’t have cared less that I was there.

This was, of course, what I expected. First, because I’ve spent enough time talking to students in pro-Palestine circles to know what their actual views and goals are. And second, because I’d bothered to look into the events that the media were referencing, enough to know that they are shading — and in Bash’s case, outright concealing — the truth. The result is that they are frightening millions of well-meaning Americans into accepting a dangerous narrative — one in which Israel’s U.S.-funded war on Palestine is the only answer, and in which police are justified in using extreme violence to crush efforts to stop it.

Here’s what seems to have actually happened in New York and LA on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning. At Columbia and the City College of New York, riot police, called in by Columbia President Minouche Shafik and

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