PBS NewsHour Again Takes Side of Pro-Hamas Campus Agitators: Just Like Vietnam?

News & Politics

Thursday’s PBS NewsHour covered the hate virus spreading on progressive college campuses nationwide of agitators threatening Israel and Jewish students. Of course, that’s not how PBS saw it, painting those pro-Hamas protesters as standing in the honorable shoes of the 1960s campus rioters that changed the course of American involvement in Vietnam. PBS also took on a University of Vanderbilt president who dared punish students for the violent invasion of a campus building.

Nawaz hosted Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier, who earlier this month penned an op-ed for the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal on his school’s crackdown on student disruptors that clearly didn’t please PBS, which described his school as a place “where dozens of students have faced suspension, expulsion, and even arrest for their participation in recent protests on campus.”

Nawaz took the side of the violent students: “There was a late March incident. Some 27 students or so forced their way into a closed administration building. I understand a campus security officer was injured during that incident. Most of the students had to be escorted out. Four were arrested, is my understanding. Help us understand the line for you. Why were those students arrested and some expelled?”

Diermeier explained that his campus has hosted peaceful protests for months, but these students “forced their way into a closed building” and “ran over a security officer” before trying to invade his own office, then sat in a hallway for hours before finally being arrested after refusing to disperse.

Nawaz was lawyerly in response: “So the line for you was the physical violence part of it. Had the building been open, you’re fine with students entering and sitting in, in protest, in other words?”

Has Nawaz seen the video of the frankly pathetic Vandy students she’s supporting so strongly, whose freedom to act like spoiled toddlers was so cruelly infringed?

After Diermeier explained the issue was disruptive conduct, Nawaz again jabbed from the left.

After Vanderbilt’s president again defended his university’s response, Nawaz weighed in again on behalf of the disruptive protesters:

The next night, Nawaz again discussed the “expansion of college protests and encampments” and used more soundbites from protesting students, this time skipping the anti-Semitic threats and slogans entirely and comparing these hateful protests to the takeover of college campuses during the Vietnam War, while pretending that divestment from Israel was the main thrust of the new agitators. (Comparisons to Vietnam War protesters are almost always positive in PBS land.)

These segments in support of anti-Jewish campus disrupters were brought to you in part by BNSF Railway.

PBS NewsHour

4/25/24

7:28:18 p.m. (ET)

Amna Nawaz: Campus protests against Israel’s war in Gaza are continuing to grow across the U.S.

The University of Southern California announced today it’s canceling its main commencement ceremony next month. Encampments are now in place in at least 20 colleges, and hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested in the last several days at multiple schools, including the University of Texas, Ohio State and Emory University.

Amid police confrontations, multiple arrests and large demonstrations, Emory University today became the latest flash point in a wave of pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses. Early this morning, at Boston’s Emerson University, violence erupted as police cleared a student encampment. More than 100 were arrested. Authorities say four officers were injured.

That followed this clash at the University of Southern California. Officers there say protesters refused to remove their encampments. The protesters say they were provoked.

Student Protester: What we just saw was an act of USC acting aggressively and failing to defend, and, in fact, being the aggressor against its students.

Amna Nawaz: By nightfall, more than 90 people were taken into custody.

Incidents are just the latest in a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations unfolding on campuses from coast to coast and beyond, including universities in Paris, Cairo, and Sydney. Some in the U.S. say they want their universities to cut financial ties with Israel.

Former USC Student: We want the university to disclose its financial holdings and divest from its relationships with financial institutions. And we want the university to recognize and acknowledge to its student body that there is a genocide happening to our families in Gaza.

Amna Nawaz: Officials at Columbia University yesterday extended talks with demonstrators to clear the campus, where, that same afternoon, House Speaker Mike Johnson was booed after his remarks.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-LA): The cherished traditions of this university are being overtaken right now by radical and extreme ideologies. They place a target on the backs of Jewish students in the United States and here on this campus.

Amna Nawaz: Jewish students across the country have said they feel unsafe amid the demonstrations and after being targeted by hate speech and antisemitic symbols.

But some are taking part in the protests…

Protesters: Free, free Palestine!

Amna Nawaz: … which continue to spread to more campuses and show no signs of ending soon.

The protests have also reached Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, where dozens of students have faced suspension, expulsion, and even arrest for their participation in recent protests on campus.

Joining us now is Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier to discuss his school’s approach, which he outlined in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed.

Chancellor, welcome to the “NewsHour.” Thanks for joining us.

Daniel Diermeier, Chancellor, Vanderbilt University: Thank you for having me.

Amna Nawaz: So, before we get into your school’s specific experience, I just want to get your reaction to how quickly and how widely these protests have spread across campus.

Daniel Diermeier: Yes, I think what we have seen in the last week or two is certainly that these issues and the protests have intensified, but, really, we have had them for the last six months or so.

Amna Nawaz: And Vanderbilt has been among those that’s seen its own protests. As we mentioned, there was a late March incident. Some 27 students or so forced their way into a closed administration building.

I understand a campus security officer was injured during that incident. Most of the students had to be escorted out. Four were arrested, is my understanding. Help us understand the line for you. Why were those students arrested and some expelled?

Daniel Diermeier: Absolutely. So, overall, over the last six months, things on campus have gone very well. Our students have done great. They had vigils. They had in-depth discussions. We have had a Passover celebration just like a few days ago with 400 students on our main lawn. And then some students have protesters as well on both sides.

We have had displays of, like, the victims in Gaza. We have had displays of the hostages. So all of that has gone very well. But about a month ago, we had a small group of students that forced their way into a closed building. This is our main administration building. And we’re still doing some construction.

They ran over a security officer. They then tried to get into my office. They were — they tried to push over some of my staff there, but didn’t succeed, and sat down in the hallway. And then, after a few hours, we told them that this is inconsistent with university policy, that this is disruptive conduct.

We then had three of the students arrested that had pushed over the police officer. We had one student arrested who had smashed over a window, and then the other students left on their own accord and were subject to student discipline subsequently.

Amna Nawaz: So the line for you was the physical violence part of it. Had the building been open, you’re fine with students entering and sitting in, in protest, in other words?

Daniel Diermeier: Well, the issue for us is whether you’re disrupting university operations.

Now, certainly, when you are forcing your way into a closed building, closed for construction, and you’re injuring a public safety officer, that line has been crossed. The critical question for us is always, are you protesting and making your voices heard, or are you engaging in disruptive conduct?

That can have many different forms. For example, we would not allow them to enter a classroom with a megaphone and disrupt the class, for example, so it can come in many different forms. This was certainly across the line.

Amna Nawaz: You said in your op-ed that free speech is alive and well at Vanderbilt.

But there was an open letter by several members of your faculty that disputes that. They say the administration has been excessive and punitive in its response to student protests. They say the rules seem arbitrary. And they say the criterion that protests must not disrupt university operations, as you say, is perniciously vague and expansive.

What do you say to that?

Daniel Diermeier: Well, I think that this particular issue has absolutely nothing to do with free speech.

As I mentioned before, there have been many expressions of student protest on campus. The issue for us is, in this particular case, was that the people forced them — forced their way into a construction building and injured a police officer. I don’t think anybody should confuse this with free speech.

Amna Nawaz: But, if I may, this line that you draw that it shouldn’t disrupt, protests shouldn’t disrupt university operations, your opposition here says that that’s actually too vague and too expansive.

Many would say the purpose of protests is to disrupt.

Daniel Diermeier: I think the purpose of protest is to make your voices heard. I don’t think the purpose of protest is to injure members of the staff or to disrupt classes.

Amna Nawaz: One of the things the students were asking for was a student-led vote, a referendum, in essence, asking for the university to divest itself financially from any financial ties to Israel.

My understanding is, you did not allow that vote, that referendum, to move forward, which then, of course, leads students to say that their free speech is being violated. So why not allow them to discuss that and hold that vote?

Daniel Diermeier: The university has three principles. One is free speech.

One is what we call institutional neutrality, which means that the university will not take policy issues unless they directly and materially affect the operations of the university, for example, not on foreign policy issues. And the third is civil discourse, which means that we treat each other with respect, we listen to each other, and when our students come on campus, they sign a community creed where they affirm their commitment to the last value of civil discourse.

The students then had a — wanted to have a referendum to use student government funds to basically boycott any firms that had connection with Israel. That, in Tennessee, is against the law. Even the vote itself would have put our state funding at risk, and so, as consequences of that, we did not allow the vote, and because it’s inconsistent with Tennessee state law.

But I want to be clear that calling for the boycott of Israel is also inconsistent with our stand on institutional neutrality.

Amna Nawaz: You know, Chancellor, I have to ask, if you believe that you and other leaders are handling these protests well, that you are hitting that balance between free speech and safety, why do you think that the protests and objections are spreading as rapidly as they are?

I mean, is there a chance here that you are not necessarily hearing the concerns of your students in the way they feel they need to be heard?

Daniel Diermeier: I need to distinguish between what’s happening on my campus.

And on my campus, this was an isolated incident that involved 30 students. What other universities do and how they handle that, I think, is something that will depend on their context. All of us will have — will be tested. Our approach has been that we have been very clear about our principles, the principles I just stated, and that we will enforce those principles, and that’s the way we have handled the situation.

Amna Nawaz: That is Vanderbilt University Chancellor Daniel Diermeier joining us tonight.

Chancellor, thank you very much for your time.

Daniel Diermeier: Sure. Thank you.

*

PBS NewsHour

4/26/24

7:17:45 p.m. (ET)

Amna Nawaz: As protests of Israel’s war in Gaza spread to campuses across the country, some see parallels between today’s demonstrations and college protests in the past.

Steven Mintz is a professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin, and Angus Johnston is a professor and historian of American student culture at the City University of New York.

Welcome to you both.

Professor Johnston, let’s just start with what the protesters are calling for here. What is their focus? What do they want as a result of these demonstrations?

Angus Johnston, Assistant Professor, City University of New York: Well, it varies campus by campus, but primarily what we’re looking for — looking at is, they’re looking for a divestment of the universities’ financial relationships with Israeli companies, a disentanglement of the universities from relationships with the Israeli government or military, and transparency as to the nature of those relationships where they currently exist.

Amna Nawaz: Professor Mintz, how do — what do you make of the demands, as Professor Johnston had laid them out? Is that something you think colleges can achieve?

Steven Mintz, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin: I think they’re very unlikely to be achieved.

The protests of the 1960s, it was possible to achieve some kind of accommodation. First of all, one of the demands, an end to the military draft, received widespread support throughout society, and Richard Nixon’s administration would make that happen.

But on campuses themselves, there were some practical goals, like studies programs, women’s studies programs, coeducation at the elite private universities, an end to parietals and in loco parentis regulations. There was a lot of ground for accommodation and compromise.

And I don’t see that much right now.

Amna Nawaz: Professor Johnston, what do you make of that? Do you agree?

Angus Johnston: Well, I think that the easiest, simplest demand that they’re making is a demand for transparency in their universities’ relationships with Israeli institutions, and I think that that is something that is certainly winnable on a lot of campuses.

I also think that, in a lot of ways, the anti-apartheid movement of the 1970s and ’80s is a much better analog than the mass student movement of the late ’60s in some ways. And I think it’s important to remember that, in the case of the anti-apartheid movement, the calls for divestment on campuses began in the mid-70s.

And it was a very, very long and slow process, by which students were adjusting people’s views of the crisis itself.

Amna Nawaz: What do you make of that, Professor Mintz? Could these protests now start what could be a long chain of changing people’s minds when it comes to how they see this issue?

Steven Mintz: The context today is very different than in the 1960s or 1970s, when higher education was growing and the federal and state investments in higher education were increasing. Today, the situation of American higher education is extremely precarious.

Public support has diminished. Funding is hotly debated in many of the states. There are threats in some state legislatures to tax endowments, to tax university property, to tax university income. Donations to many of the leading universities have declined.

This is a very treacherous moment, especially for the most well-endowed and highly selective institutions.

Amna Nawaz: Professor Johnston, do you agree with that? I mean, is there a chance here that protesters run the risk of losing support the longer these protests go on, because of this scenario, as Professor Mintz has laid it out?

Angus Johnston: Well, I think it’s important to note that the protests themselves so far have largely been pretty moderate in their tactics.

We’re not seeing, as we did in the 1960s, rioting, rocks being thrown at police, even buildings getting burned — being burned down. The protests themselves have been pretty moderate. The thing that is inflaming the situation right now — in terms of their tactics, the thing that’s inflaming the situation right now is bringing in the cops and using the police not only to engage in mass arrests against students, but in arresting and in some cases beating and abusing faculty as well.

I think it’s really important to point out that there are a number of campuses at which the university has decided to take a hands-off approach to these encampments. MIT is one. Berkeley is another. And at these, the encampments have been proceeding with very little issue and very little drama.

Amna Nawaz: Professor Mintz, what about that? Because we have seen some pretty heavy-handed tactics in some cases. At your campus, at the University of Texas in Austin, dozens of people were arrested. Police in riot gear were called in to disperse the crowds. Is that necessary?

Steven Mintz: Right now, we have many brand-new presidents, unseasoned senior administrators making decisions.

One suspects that administrators who were more knowledgeable about past history, had more experience dealing with students, had better rapport with their student populations, that this would be playing out extremely differently.

What we need to see on the part of senior administrators is a real willingness to step out of their offices, communicate with the students, and try to achieve some kind of accommodation.

Amna Nawaz: Are you saying that you don’t believe that the police should have been called in some of these circumstances?

Steven Mintz: Absolutely not. And the lesson of history could not be clearer that this only escalates the situation, it worsens the situation, and it results in a degree of alienation that’s very difficult to overcome.

Amna Nawaz: So, given all that, Professor Mintz, I will ask you, and, then, Professor Johnston, if you would follow, I will just ask you both, where do we go from here? How do you see this unfolding in the weeks ahead?

Professor Mintz?

Steven Mintz: I think the conversation needs to be made more productive.

In this country, if you want political change, you build coalitions. And what I’m not seeing on campus right now is an effort to have effective protests that will bring people together. When people hear anti-American sentiments, they are radically turned off.

The demonstrators, in my view, should be calling for peace, for the release of the hostages, and an American foreign policy that will really result in a two-state solution.

Amna Nawaz: Professor Johnston, I will give you the last word here.

Angus Johnston: I’m really heartened by the fact that, despite what Professor Mintz has said, a lot of faculty have been turning out in support of these students, some of them turning out in support of the students’ goals, but others turning out in support of the students’ right to protest without being harassed and without being abused by cops.

I think we are seeing the development of a new coalition on the campus. And I’m very heartened by that. And I hope that administrators take heed of that and do their bit to de-escalate the situation as well.

Amna Nawaz: That is Professor Angus Johnston from the City University of New York and Professor Steven Mintz from the University of Texas at Austin.

Thank you both for joining us tonight.

Angus Johnston: Thank you.

Steven Mintz: You’re welcome.

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