In a country controlled by conservatives in all three branches of government, let’s pour one out for the real victims within society: disproportionally wealthy, white conservative college students. According to a recent Student Life article, conservative students face derision for their beliefs and feel as if they are treated unfairly for their political ideals. Besides being devoid of any concept of power dynamics between reactionaries and marginalized communities, this perspective places disdain for right wing policies supported by students on the same field as actual discriminatory practices against marginalized communities.
The article quotes several students who decry a lack of tolerance of conservative viewpoints on campus as if that is a bad thing. However, the modern Republican Party is centered on explicit racism, dog whistles and anti-democratic policies that systemically deny and disenfranchise marginalized communities. Why is tolerance of (intolerable) policies such as the travel ban, support for blue lives matter, anti-union efforts, gerrymandering, voter ID laws and more a desirable goal? To tolerate these policies is to either acknowledge that they merit a certain level of acceptability “within moderation” or to abandon moral red lines, both of which are antithetical to a principled stance on social justice issues.
In the United States, if one really wants to support somewhat conservative principles that are corporate-friendly, that do not threaten mainstream sensibilities and that do not radically upend the global capitalist world order, one can just support the Democratic Party. Journalist Adam Johnson summed this up in a tweet—“In 2018 if ur still a Republican ur either a white nationalist or care more about reducing ur taxes [3 percent] than the baseline humanity of nonwhites which, in effect, makes you a white nationalist.” Those who support President Trump or his policies do so, consciously choosing to center their own self-interests for marginal benefit over marginalized communities.
The article can be described as presenting “discrimination” conservatives face as a previously unaddressed form of injustice related to other forms of oppression. As a result, it works to equate struggles marginalized groups face with conservative angst. This begs the question as to why the extensive article was written to bring light to the most visible group of Americans at Wash. U. when so many voices on campus are obscured.
The “plight” of conservatives in university spaces pales in comparison to what other groups have experienced at Washington University, such as black students handling racist Yik Yak comments during the 2014-2015 academic year or a racist Halloween costume that stereotyped Muslims. The implicit comparison doesn’t hold water to Washington University’s successful efforts during the 1970s and 1980s to gut the sociology department because of the Marxist influence that threatened university power.
Conservatives are not discriminated against in the same vein as other marginalized groups. One group of students targeted by social norms, the University, state-sanctioned repression and even international pressure are pro-Palestinian activists, and the comparison isn’t even close. Washington University has a large number of students supporting the ideology of Zionism and as a result, campus discourse favors Israel’s policies. Op-eds defending Israel are routinely published like this one and this one, even when they contain thinly veiled (not cited) racist tropes claiming people are “stoned to death and pushed off buildings for being gay in Iran.” Articles like this working as propaganda are better relegated to a creative writing class, yet still make their way into the school’s newspaper.
Students sympathetic to the Palestinian cause are routinely disrupted and targeted by conservative pro-Israel student groups. Professors who dare advocate for equal treatment between Palestinians and Jews are silenced, such as Professor Mark Lamont Hill, who was fired from CNN for daring to call for “a free Palestine from the river to the sea.” Canary Mission, a group funded in part by the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, created thousands of dossiers on Pro-Palestinian college activists to silence dissent by “doxxing”, inciting threats against activists and tarnishing job prospects.
Free speech rights for pro-Palestinian activists are stymied by university administrations. The University of California system passed new policies in 2016 that characterized the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement and anti-Zionist principles as anti-Semitic, opening the door for institutions to punish students for using political free speech by characterizing such speech as on an equal footing with racist and hate speech directed towards marginalized groups.
These policies extend nationally. New York overwhelming passed a measure to counter the “anti-Semitism” present in the BDS movement by (ironically) boycotting any entities participating within the movement. New York is not the only state to strip Palestinian activists of their constitutional rights: There are 24 other states with anti-BDS laws. In addition, U.S. Congressional representatives are attempting to make BDS illegal nationwide. In March 2017, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act sponsored by 29 Republican and 14 Democratic senators would make support of an international boycott of Israel a felony subject to a maximum criminal penalty of $1 million and 20 years in prison. A similar measure in the House had 234 co-sponsors.
Suppression of Palestinian rights extends to the Israeli government. An Al-Jazeera documentary, “The Lobby,” details the ways in which the Israeli government has conspired to push back against the BDS movement and student activism. The documentary details how the Israel on Campus Coalition worked with Canary Mission and the Israeli government to monitor Palestinian activists on US college campuses. The Israeli strategic affairs ministry is responsible for pushing back against the global BDS movement. To do so, they deploy a host of unsavory tactics, including “’defamation campaigns, harassment and threats to the lives of activists as well as ‘infringing on and violating their privacy.’”
It is clear that Palestinian activists and other marginalized groups are targeted in ways incomparable to anything conservative students may experience. That being said, these activists recognize the importance of their actions, continue to fight and are winning, leading even pro-Israel agents to admit that their efforts are failing. By focusing energy on “the plight of conservatives,” once again, the focus is steered to relatively affluent, predominantly white men, while marginalized communities and activists fighting for those communities remain relatively unnoticed by the general Wash. U. population. Let us shift the focus away from conservatives and toward the people who deserve the visibility and support of the larger school community.
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