It Appeared Those School Activists Had To Be Trained To Conduct Those Protests

It was too obvious NOT to be true! When we saw all the nice tents, all the protesters carefully shielding their faces, and the choreographed chants that parrotted antisemitism resentment, we knew this was not a typical demonstration as we’ve seen for generations. These protests and demonstrations were painstakingly organized and funded.

The obvious questions were asked: Who put all these people together? Who passed out the anti-Israeli talking points that found their own rhythm and were heard in unison around the World?

We had our suspicions, but the most important and nagging question was: Who is paying for all of this?

“Follow The Money”

The recent wave of pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses came on suddenly and shocked people across the nation. However, the political tactics underlying some of the demonstrations were the result of months of training, planning, and encouragement from longtime activists and left-wing groups.

At Columbia University, in the weeks and months before police took down encampments at the New York City campus and removed demonstrators occupying an academic building, student organizers began consulting with groups such as the National Students for Justice in Palestine, veterans of campus protests, and former Black Panthers.

They researched past protests over Columbia’s expansion into Harlem, went to a community meeting on gentrification and development and studied parallels with the fight over land between Palestinians and Israelis. They attended a “teach-in” put on by several former Black Panthers, who told them about the importance of handling internal disputes within their movement.

“We took notes from our elders, engaged in dialogue with them, and analyzed how the university responded to previous protests,” said Sueda Polat, a graduate student and organizer in the pro-Palestinian encampment.

Though there isn’t a centralized command overseeing the student movement opposing Israel’s invasion of Gaza, there are connections between longstanding far-left groups and the protesters.

Activist Groups Trained Students for Months Before Campus Protests © Provided by The Wall Street Journal

The National Students for Justice in Palestine, or NSJP, has existed for some two decades and has more than 300 chapters across the U.S. Many of these chapters have helped organize college encampments and occupations.

For months, NSJP has called on students to stand strong against colleges until they divest themselves of investments in entities doing business with Israel. Its social media pages have become a scroll of encouragement to protesting students, with videos showing activity at encampments and around the world. As early as October, NSJP was promoting a “day of resistance” with demonstrations at colleges.

Over time, the national group’s messages became more pointed. On April 25, NSJP posted on social media, “The Student Movement for Palestinian Liberation will not be silenced; we will escalate until our demands are met.”

“No Divestment, No Commencement”

That same day on X, the group posted drawings with “friendly advice” to protesting students. One suggested they wear comfortable clothes and running shoes and bring water, an energy bar, and a bandanna in case of surveillance. Another referred to police as “pigs” and offered this advice: “If someone is arrested, don’t linger too long, or pigs will kettle the march,” referring to a crowd-control tactic. “Free the comrade, or else get their name and birthdate for jail support and keep it moving.”

On April 29, the group announced a new chant on social media: “No divestment, no commencement.” University administrators have been concerned that protesters could interrupt upcoming graduations.

NSJP didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

Some of the group’s campus chapters have been suspended by universities, including Columbia.

For the last decade, donations to NSJP have been received and administered by the WESPAC Foundation, according to Howard Horowitz, WESPAC’s board chairman. The donations are passed on to NSJP “for projects in the United States,” he said, declining to provide further details.

According to its website, WESPAC, a nonprofit based in Westchester County near New York City, is decades old. It has supported humanitarian causes, as well as organizations that propagate antisemitism, according to the Anti-Defamation League. WESPAC has posted support of pro-Palestinian protests on social media and posted videos in which protesters held signs that refer to President Biden as “Genocide Joe.”

Robert Herbst, a representative for WESPAC, said, “WESPAC has not coordinated, trained or strategized with protest participants, nor do we support organizations that have supported violence, antisemitism or terrorism.”

Resistance 101

In March, Columbia scheduled a “Resistance 101” training with guest speakers, including longtime activists with Samidoun: Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network, a Vancouver, British Columbia-based group that celebrated the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The administration twice barred the event, citing some of the organizers’ known support of terrorism and promotion of violence. However, Columbia students hosted the event virtually, prompting Columbia President Minouche Shafik to suspend several of them.

During the session, which lasted nearly two hours, Samidoun coordinator Charlotte Kates encouraged students “to build an internationally popular cradle of the resistance,” according to a recording posted on YouTube.

“There is nothing wrong with being a member of Hamas, being a leader of Hamas, being a fighter in Hamas,” Kates said. “These are the people that are on the front lines defending Palestine.”

Samidoun didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment. The German government banned the group last November after saying it supported terrorism and antisemitism and incited the use of violence to enforce political interests.

Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago who studies political violence, said outside organizers are only one factor in the protests. He said they are successfully leveraging student anger over the violence in Gaza, which many young people not conversant in the region’s complicated history are watching on social media.

These Are Painstakingly Coordinated. But by Whom?

Anne-Marie Jardine, a student arrested in a protest at the University of Texas at Austin, said images from the war on social media helped motivate her involvement in the movement. “It’s one thing to hear it on the news but another to see children covered in blood,” she said.

Pape said university and national leaders should expect protests to continue through the summer and fall. “You have a major dynamic happening in the world that is a major concern,” Pape said.

Jacob Schmeltz, a senior political-science major at Columbia, went home to Montclair, N.J., for Passover and said he felt so uncomfortable with the antisemitic rhetoric on campus, he hasn’t come back.

“This should be the time I should be able to enjoy my senior year,” he said. “But instead, I have felt so rejected by much of the Columbia community that have refused to call out the incidents of antisemitism on campus.”

Protesters have denied assertions of antisemitism, noting that many of those in the encampments are Jewish themselves.

Discipline and Rigor

Polat said student organizers at Columbia learned the discipline and planning needed to organize an effective protest movement not only from their work with veteran demonstrators and outside groups but also from participating in Black Lives Matter marches or student labor organizing.

Some tools they learned were practical, such as how to raise money via student fundraisers and donations from friends and supporters to buy tents for encampments.

Saree Makdisi, a University of California, Los Angeles, English professor and member of the school’s chapter of Faculty for Justice in Palestine, said his school’s encampment had organized self-defense teams on the front lines. Participants, who were confronted several times by pro-Israel counterprotesters, had to undergo nonviolent de-escalation training. The training was put on by students who themselves had received prior training in nonviolent resistance. “There’s a whole set of discipline and procedures that go into it,” he said.

UCLA’s encampment was taken down following a confrontation with police Thursday morning.

Makdisi said that his generation of pro-Palestinian student protesters in the U.S. during the 1980s weren’t nearly as disciplined and organized as the students he encountered at the UCLA encampment.

“We had a lot of affect and feeling. But there’s a different kind of rigor to these students that is really striking,” he said.

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