This Is Not Kent State

Comments and memes appearing on social media lately have compared the current campus protests – such as those at the University of Minnesota – to the tragic events of May 4, 1970. “I’m old enough to remember,” one meme reads, “that putting the National Guard on college campuses is a bad idea. #KentState.”

Well, I, too, am old enough to remember Kent State and believe the comparison does a great injustice to the Kent State protesters. Unfounded rumors that the National Guard was deployed to a college campus in Texas last week in response to a so-called “pro-Palestinian” encampment there is as far as the similarity goes.

For those not old enough to remember, the Kent State demonstrations occurred after President Richard Nixon announced that the United States had invaded Cambodia, expanding the Vietnam War rather than ending it as promised in his presidential campaign. The next day, Friday, May 1, antiwar and anti-Nixon protests were held on campuses nationwide. After disturbances and vandalism in downtown Kent, Ohio, that night, the mayor of Kent asked the governor to send in the National Guard. They arrived Saturday night.

At a Kent State demonstration that Monday, the Guard repeatedly ordered the students to disperse, which they did not. After rounds of tear gas, advances and retreats, 28 Guardsmen turned suddenly and fired their weapons. Four students were killed and nine other students wounded, most of them peaceful protesters but some were merely bystanders or on their way to class.

I’m old enough to have been devastated by the horror, which occurred a few miles from my home. Only a few days before, my family and I had been personally threatened by a Guardsman, while driving to our weekly music lesson. We came to a roadblock of Guardsmen and Guard trucks, who had been called to our rural Akron suburb to help control a truckers’ strike – they would be ordered to deploy to Kent within the week.

“Can’t we just go around them?” Mom asked. “Not unless you want to get shot,” the gun-toting Guard member replied.

I’m old enough to remember that the antiwar movement of the 1960s and ’70s was an actual grassroots campaign for peace, with student protests happening spontaneously, unlike today’s encampments, funded by the deep pockets of authoritarian oil-rich Middle East nations where, in supreme irony, free speech is violently suppressed. There’s nothing grassroots or spontaneous about color-coordinated, matching tents.

I’m old enough to remember that Kent State protesters didn’t demonize an entire people or nation or intimidate students of a particular religion. Very few openly cheered for the North Vietnamese or Cambodian communists to win. There were no signs calling for “Death to America.” That slogan emerged just a few years later on the other side of the world during the violent radical Islamist revolution in Iran, where 52 Americans were taken hostage and held for 444 days.

Unlike today’s students – and probably most faculty, administrators and trustees – I’m old enough to remember the Palestinian terrorists of that time. They often wore keffiyehs, so fashionable on campus today. Palestinian terrorists hijacked planes and even a cruise ship, murdering Jewish passengers just for being Jewish, including a disabled Holocaust survivor.

I’m old enough to remember that Palestinian terrorists held 11 Israeli athletes hostage at the 1972 Olympics in Munich and murdered them as the world watched on TV.

I’m old enough to remember the Palestinian suicide bombers who blew up buses and cafes, murdering a thousand people in Israeli cities. That’s what an intifada is – terrorist attacks against innocent civilians – yet today’s students blithely join the calls for a new intifada. Are they merely uninformed or do they really support terrorism?

What exactly do they think “from the river to the sea” means? A magically peaceful dismantling of a nation comprising 9 million citizens, three-quarters of them Jews, leaving them to find another new home in the world again? Despite the land having been given to them by the world, via the United Nations in 1948?

If they weren’t so naïve or so easily manipulated by a vigorous decades-long campaign of misinformation, the protesters would understand that their calls to “Free Palestine” or eradicate Zionism are actually calls not for peace but for more violence and more war.

If the protests were truly pro-peace, the activists would be calling for the immediate release of the hostages. Have they conveniently forgotten about the abducted babies, children, women and men or do they selectively sympathize only with Palestinian citizens?

If they were truly pro-peace, they would be calling for Hamas to surrender in addition to calling for a ceasefire. They could even call for elections in Israel to find new leadership. They wouldn’t be flying the flags of UN-certified terrorist groups. They would not be plastering campuses with threatening flyers calling to “globalize the intifada,” illustrated with masked, heavily armed men. The images are everywhere on campus, the buildings, the classrooms, the sidewalks. It’s inescapable and horrifying.

I cannot imagine being a Jewish student on campus in these conditions.

It was stunning to hear Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar compare these anti-Israel and de facto pro-violence demonstrators to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Rabbis marched with Dr. King. She later made the chilling claim that Jewish students could be divided into those who are “pro-genocide” and those who are “anti-genocide.” We all want this war to end. Defending Israel’s right to exist doesn’t make you “pro-genocide.” Such incitement by a member of Congress is dangerous, and her constituents would do well to investigate what other thoughts she may have about them.

Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires humility and compassion. The history is incredibly complicated with so much to learn and sort through before arriving at an informed opinion.

It’s much easier to chant a rhyme that calls for the end of the world’s only Jewish state. So much easier to call Israel – a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-religious democracy – “racist” for being a Jewish state while ignoring the 23 countries where Islam is the official state religion. The hypocrisy astounds, but vilifying Jews for the world’s problems and the use of double standards has been the go-to ploy for some 2,000 years and counting.

I’m not criticizing criticism of Israel. I vehemently oppose Netanyahu and his far-right government. I grieve for the loss of life in Israel and in Gaza and pray for the suffering to end in this war that Israel did not start and does not want.

But let’s be clear: today’s protesters have signed on to a platform that condones the violence of Hamas and other terrorist groups, advocates for the destruction of the Jewish state, and adds fuel to the fire of rapidly increasing antisemitism around the world.

At Kent State, they called for peace.