On one sidewalk, words written in chalk read, “Power to Hezbollah.” Elsewhere, people shout, “Glory to the Martyrs!” Still, in another location, a sign reads, “Final Solution.” 

Are these scenes from Beirut, Tehran, or Damascus? B-roll from Al Jazeera? The UNRWA slack channel? No, believe it or not, these words and images were captured from protests at some of America’s most prestigious universities. They are common refrains, heard and seen as thousands of students march for the “Free Palestine” movement, whose latest mashup of Marxism and antisemitism has been reborn in the wake of the October 7th attacks by Hamas on innocent Jewish civilians. 

Much of the recent commentary has focused on the violent tactics of these protests, which include locking Jewish students in libraries, blocking Jewish students from attending classes, and inexplicably confusing free speech with the right to camp on a university lawn. There has also been a robust debate on free speech as expressed in the First Amendment. Those who defend the right to speak—even the most vile of words—have a point. 

And yet, the cause for which the Free Palestine movement fights is as morally bankrupt as their slogans are vacuous. Let’s review what prompted this latest burst of social action. To paraphrase comedian Bill Maher, the protestors weren’t motivated to march in the streets by North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Un’s starving of his own people, nor the ethnic cleansing of the Masualt tribe in West Darfur, nor even the massacre of thousands of Palestinians by Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. 

Instead, it was violent slaughter of over 1500 Jewish men, women, and children by Hamas. And yet despite such vile crimes, the Free Palestine movement did not rebuke the murderous thugs who raped concert-goers, beheaded babies, and shot parents in front of their children in homes along Israel’s border with Gaza. Rather, while the bodies of slain innocents were still warm, while forensic investigators were still piecing together strands of body tissue to help grief-stricken families identify loved ones, and while hostages were being abused and tortured by terrorists, these feckless protestors took to American city streets against Israel. 

Some might argue that Israel’s bombing campaign against Hamas in Gaza has gone too far. But what is Israel to do against a murderous terrorist organization that catechizes their young to hate and kill Jews and whose charter calls for the elimination of all Jews and the state of Israel? Should the Israelis allow Hamas to continue to exist along their border? 

War is awful and the loss of a single civilian life is a moral tragedy. We should weep for every Palestinian child and Jewish child who perishes. Yet, we must also come to grips with the facts on the ground. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) has not been perfect and Israel’s government cannot be defended against every charge of indiscriminate use of force. Even so, many of the accusations of Israeli malfeasance have been proven false.

According to John Spencer, the chair of urban warfare studies at the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, Israel has not only met but exceeded the legal standard in terms of minimizing civilian casualty. Israel has offered warnings, opened humanitarian corridors, and engaged in military pauses unheard of in modern warfare, even by nations generally accepted as observing the laws of international war. All while fighting an enemy that has no regard for human life, whether Jewish or Palestinian. Hamas uses their own people for human shields, maximizes civilian death, and even attacks humanitarian relief to their own people. 

The plight of Palestinians in Gaza is tragic, yet anti-Israel protesters miss the bigger picture by failing to recognize that the true enemy of the Palestinian people is Hamas, not Israel. Those shouting “free Palestine” foolishly ignore the failure of Hamas to govern Gaza. There was a time when the Israeli government supplied Gaza with free electricity and water, with countries around the world pouring in relief and development investment into Gaza. But what did Hamas, the ruling party, do with these aid dollars? Rather than build a flourishing society where their Palestinians could raise a family, get an education, and live in freedom, they built an expensive and expansive network of tunnels filled with weapons for the purpose of eradicating Israel. They ran a ruthless regime of terror against anyone in Gaza who dare spoke up in defiance. 

If the protestors really cared about the Palestinians in Gaza, they’d be calling for a lasting peace, which would necessarily entail the end of Hamas’s reign of terror and the release the American and Israeli hostages.  They’d be protesting the Muslim nations that have coddled Hamas. They’d be urging Egypt to open it’s borders rather than blaming Israel for the plight of these suffering people. 

This is why the student protests—inexplicably defended by too many on the left and in the mainstream media—are a morally bankrupt movement. Their slogans support not those yearning for freedom, but bloodthirsty, evil terrorists. “From the river to the sea” is a not-so-subtle call to eliminate the Jewish nation. “Go back to Poland”, often shouted at these rallies, is an illusion to the place where the most Jewish people in history died at the hands of a movement not unlike Hamas and Hezbollah. 

Freedom of speech is a sacred American right, but we have so fetishized protest for protest’s sake that too few consider what’s being protested for and against. This is not the righteous movement of the 1960’s, where Martin Luther King Jr. called for black Americans to be fully included in America’s promise, whose animating principle was love. The radical, antisemitic, pro-terrorist ideology that has taken root at too many universities is in no position to appropriate the legacy of the civil rights movement. Rather, the protests we see today in American cities and college campuses are anti-American, antisemitic, and evil. We should both condemn both their tactics and their cause.