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    David Pan: Arrest students who break the law
    • May 4, 2024

    As student protests become more volatile, with vandalism and skirmishes between protesters and police as well as continuing unlawful action by students and other protestors, it is becoming ever clearer that claims by students and faculty that they are engaging in non-violent direct action and free speech were false from the very beginning. Their strategy has been to create fear rather than dialogue, confrontation rather than mutual understanding.

    When I was a college student at Stanford, I participated in a 1986 sit-in protest to support divestment from South Africa’s apartheid government. It was a peaceful protest following the ideal of non-violent direct action promoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. Unlike the current students protesting against Israel, we did not hide our faces or resist arrest. Rather, the entire goal of the sit-in was to be arrested, and we were willingly arrested within hours of sitting down in an administration building, and we peacefully complied with all police instructions.

    Similarly, the participants in the 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina, lunch counter sit-ins were not afraid to reveal their identities, and in fact insisted on accepting the consequences of their actions in a tradition of civil disobedience going back to Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau himself also did not resist arrest, but willingly went to jail, affirming later on that “[u]nder a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.” Generations of peaceful protesters since then, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., have proclaimed their identities and their actions, accepting possible imprisonment and harassment as a way of affirming what they believed was right.

    Unfortunately, the current student protesters are doing the opposite. They promote violence by resisting arrest and create fear by hiding their faces. In concealing their identities, they are denying responsibility for their actions, in the same way as Hamas terrorists.

    Most importantly, though, the goals of a protest are crucial for its legitimacy. As with Thoreau’s protests against slavery and the Greensboro sit-ins against segregated lunch counters, the goal of the 1980s anti-apartheid protests was to fight against people being treated differently because they belong to a group rather than because of what they do as individuals. This principle of equal treatment for all regardless of group belonging is the most fundamental idea of our notion of human rights. All these instances of protests were eventually vindicated by the ending of slavery, the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa.

    The current student protesters, however, do not share Thoreau’s “true respect for the individual.” Even if they seek to support the Palestinian people, the effect of the protests is to support Hamas, whose founding documents include a call to kill all Jews, and Iran, which is orchestrating a broad attempt to destroy Israel. As a scholar of 20th century Germany, I do not make the connection to Nazis lightly. However, in this case the comparison is justified, first by the historical connections between the Nazis and the Muslim Brotherhood and thus Hamas, and second, by today’s chants of “from the river to sea, Palestine will be free,” which promote the elimination of Jews based purely on their belonging to an ethnic group. Rather than calling for the release of hostages, their slogan calls for purging the land of an entire people.

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    Even if one were to interpret such slogans as directed only against the Israeli state, it would mean that they are promoting terrorist regimes run by Hamas and the Iranian Ayatollahs, both of which terrorize their own people in addition to attacking Israel, against an Israeli liberal democracy that oversees a multi-ethnic society, with protections for all ethnicities and religions. Israel adheres to the international law of war by avoiding civilian casualties, even as it is fighting for its survival against a coalition surrounding it from all sides, including Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis, Syria, and Iran. In such a situation, student and faculty support for Hamas against Israel promotes the spread of terrorist governments against liberal democracy, part of a broader global conflict that also implicates the US and its form of government.

    Our university administrators should not allow such protestors to disrupt our campuses and break laws and regulations meant to protect others. Resisting arrest is a form of violence that can in no way be defended as a form of speech. Free speech involves the courage to state one’s views openly and to promote dialogue. The current student protesters are doing neither. 

    The burgeoning violence at UCLA, Columbia, and other campuses is not the fault of the police, as protesters argue, but a further indication that appeasing lawbreakers only leads to a further breakdown of the law. Administrators who allow such disruptions to continue are contributing to the deterioration of peaceful dialogue and debate on our college campuses, as well as undermining the cause of human rights throughout the world.

    David Pan is a professor at UC Irvine, editor of Telos, and a congressional candidate in California’s 46th district.

    ​ Orange County Register