Campus Tribalism & Intolerance

Peace Advocate, June 2024

Mock Checkpoint Protest by Students for Justice in Palestine, Wikimedia Commons

How to Unite Pro-Palestinian Students 

By Camille van Vliet

After the Israeli invasion of Gaza, campus politics have been at the center of protest politics surrounding genocide in Palestine. The many deaths in Gaza have divided campuses ever more. Dialogue on campuses has withered away, with the University of Chicago reporting that more than half of Muslim and Jewish students have felt in personal danger since protests broke out. As a result, many pro-Palestinian students have been afraid to speak out. 

Who can really blame them? From the doxing of pro-Palestinian students, to the students at Columbia being physically assaulted and arrested, speaking out for Palestine is difficult in this hostile environment. Leading us to the situation we see today, moderate pro-Palestinian students who see no merit in joining student organizations and improving student advocacy. With one student reporting to the Globe that she doesn’t ‘feel the desire to be friends’ with people who are ‘immovable’ in their standpoints. A tragedy in and of itself, as these political ‘bystanders’ are a huge untapped resource for the Palestinian movement. This is truly a missed opportunity, as more membership would naturally benefit student movements on many campuses. Not to mention the manner in which they could come up with new ideas for having political impact, forcing concessions from moderate political figures.

Before I move onto my instructions as to how to get moderate pro-Palestian students involved, current-day racism and Zionism on campuses have to be addressed. When I recommend to involve moderate students, I do not mean students who justify Israeli actions in any way, shape, or form. Instead, I mean to involve students who have been reluctant to speak up due to expected reactions of activists. I agree that ferocious demonstrating and protesting are, as MAPA can confirm, fruitful activities. However, how do we arrive at moderate pro-Palestinian students cooperating with the existing movement and helping us in our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the average American? 

I have, through several interviews with students, found three key areas for improvement: misconceptions, quick judgment, and intolerance. Together, they cause average pro-Palestinian students who would normally be willing to speak up, to be sidelined. Tackling each of these issues within the movement seems to eliminate most current-day obstacles to increasing membership on campuses. 

Firstly, by misconceptions I mean the preconception that moderate students are misinformed. Believing that nuanced opinions are ‘misguided’, only gaining their insights from faulty news sources online. Wrongly informed they believe that other students do not know what is going on in actuality. Leading activists to gatekeep the pro-Palestinian movement in an attempt to exclude the ‘misguided’, preventing moderate students from exchanging ideas and providing useful in the future. Activists are quickly seen as ‘crazy’ who do not allow other opinions, leading moderates to believe that there is no point in conversation.

Secondly, moderate students believe activists will be quick to judge, having no patience for anyone who does not agree with their worldviews. I understand that the anti-zionist movement sees no point in compromising with settler colonialism. Yet, having to exist in an American zionist space, they have become intolerant to even moderate pro-Palestinian voices.  Immediately becoming the target of online harassment, as people have become used to a mindset where if ‘you are not with us, you are against us’. Consequently, average students engage in self-censorship, rather staying silent than sticking their neck out in a discussion. 

Lastly, the earlier mentioned issues cause an environment of intolerance. Believing that the other is misinformed and quick to judge will only cause behavior that perpetuates those beliefs. Thinking that the other will always reply with extremist rhetoric makes it impossible for you to make a nuanced point, as their extremist viewpoint will trump your moderate opinion With one student telling me: “I think the initial tone was ‘we are ready to learn’, we are ready to talk and discuss, and then they (pro-Israeli students) spoke up.” This then incentivizes pro-Palestinain students to reciprocate intolerance, knowing that otherwise their cause will be misrepresented by Zionist voices. Stuck in this dilemma, moderate pro-Palestinian students do not wish to speak up at all. 

Thus, breaking this cycle is crucial in starting to reel in political moderates on campuses. In order to counteract this horrible process, I propose something called a ‘meta-discussion’. These would be open dialogues within pro-Palestinian movements, hosted by a mediator who is aware of these issues, specifically about the type of rhetoric used on Gaza. These mediators should steer towards the topic of misinformation and judgment in the context of stopping Genocide, finding commonalities in the experienced sadness and outrage due to the Israeli invasion. In this environment, students can relate to one another, perhaps adjusting preconceived notions they had about one another. By building trust between individuals, defecting towards extremist rhetoric will be less likely, opening up the floor to more moderate and nuanced voices within current activist movements. 

Together, talking about the type of communication used, moderate pro-Palestinian students can start to spearhead the movement, having a greater political impact. Quickening the end of atrocities.


-Camille van Vliet is an intern at Massachusetts Peace Action