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    Larry Wilson: Veuve Clicquot and the pro-Palestine campers
    • May 4, 2024

    The Veuve Clicquot-branded umbrella within the pro-Palestinian encampment at UCLA Wednesday night was a telling touch.

    Its student owner didn’t bring it to camp as protection against the rain; it was dry in Westwood. No, the brolly brandisher just grabbed the thing, its deep yellow nylon canopy the same color as the fancy Champagne’s famous label, as she ran out her dorm-room door, late for the demo, just in case the Blue Meanies broke with the tear gas.

    Little did she know as well the irony that would be created when L.A. Times photographer Michael Blackshire captured her unfurled umbrella advert for a $78 bottle of bubbly for Thursday’s front page, pictured next to a preppy tennis racket in the makeshift barricade as the keffiyeh-wearers found themselves under attack from the Israeli-flag wielders.

    What a damn mess. What a bunch of pedants on both sides. How malleable, how brilliantly unprofound, is the mind of the 19-year-old. Smartypants to a person — you don’t get into UCLA, the most applied-to university in the nation, without having been top of your class, a grind — and yet how susceptible they are to that suddenly resurrected 1968 term “outside agitators.”

    Given the chance, said older political counselors would have advised the young Bruin against sporting the umbrella Mom brought back from France last summer. But accidents will happen in the sudden scrum of righteousness.

    Neither the kids suddenly so knowledgeable about the plight of the Gazans nor the young backers of anything Israeli are thinking or acting with any subtlety in this fraught national moment.  They can’t pull back from their single focus and answer the question a congressman asked of the pro-Palestinian protesters outside last week’s White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington: “What about how China is treating the Uyghurs? What of the ethnic killings in Sudan?”

    Why aren’t they protesting the gunning down last week of Ghufran Mahdi Sawadi in Baghdad for the crime of being a TikTok star who wears tight clothing and dances on camera?

    Because they’re not thinking straight, or for themselves.

    I’m not saying that they are wrong to protest the inexcusable methods with which the government of current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has prosecuted its war against Hamas, resulting in the tragic deaths of tens of thousands of innocents in the wake of the inexcusable Oct. 7 slaughter of 1,200 Israeli civilians.

    But if they had studied what genocide means — the attempt to destroy an entire group of people, as the Nazis tried to do to the Jews, and the Ottoman Empire tried to do to the Armenians — they would know that while this is another horror show in the awful history of insane wars, genocide it is not.

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    Nor have they bothered to think through what it means to call for the destruction of the state of Israel, the only democracy in the Mideast, surrounded by nations helmed by tinpot dictators and murderous kings. Anti-Semitic? No, not me, they all say.

    Though they had never heard the saying “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” until quite recently, they are happy to chant it, again without quite taking in what it means: the dismantling of Israel.

    Young people will be young people. But take care in what you do and say. The other day on the way to a campus meeting I walked past the pro-Palestinian camp in UC Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza. Later that day I saw a photo of Mario Savio addressing a Free Speech Movement crowd in 1964 in the exact same spot, standing on a car. He’d taken his shoes off so as not to damage it. Smart man, playing the long game.

    Larry Wilson is a member of the Southern California News Group editorial board. [email protected]

    ​ Orange County Register