Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

‘Mask-off’: Max Blumenthal discusses the nationwide protests

Blumenthal speaks on the history of the Israel-Gaza war and the impact of student protesters
Kalina Kornacki

Award-winning journalist and author Max Blumenthal delivered his presentation, “The Occupation Comes Home: From Columbia to Capitol Hill” at the University of Massachusetts’ Integrative Learning Center in front of a crowd of over 150 students, faculty and community members on Wednesday, May 8.

Sut Jhally, the executive director of the Media Education Foundation in Northampton, sponsored the event in collaboration with Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

Jhally introduced philosophy professor Joseph Levine, who opened the discussion with an overview of the last two weeks of on-and-off encampments on the Student Union South Lawn, specifically on Tuesday evening. He said that Chancellor Javier Reyes claimed the negotiation was open dialogue and how he really wants to hear the protesters. Meanwhile, four police departments were massing their forces outside Whitmore getting ready to violently attack the encampment.

“So it really looked to everybody like [the negotiation] was just a ruse,” Levine said. “[Reyes could now say] ‘Well, I did talk to them.’”

Levine was shocked when law enforcement moved in and said that the tactics reminded him of attacks being committed on the West Bank. “Talk about bringing the occupation [to UMass],” Levine said. “I don’t want to claim it’s as bad as the West Bank, but the tactics reminded me of that, especially when they’re declaring the whole lawn inadmissible for anyone. …I thought, ‘that’s what the Israeli military does: they talk about closed military zones whenever they want to get rid of people.’”

During the morning of May 8, a group of faculty members met with the Chancellor and stated that if Reyes wanted to “defuse and deescalate the situation” he would have to drop all the charges immediately and make an apology.

“He didn’t say absolutely no, but from the response that those of us who were there saw … it was pretty clear that our meeting with him was kind of just like that meeting yesterday,” Levine added. “I hope there will be some peace and reconciliation on this campus. But don’t hold your breath.”

After the briefing, Jhally introduced Blumenthal, who made jokes and described his first protests, at the University of Pennsylvania campus, against banning drinking beer on campus. “Another time I saw a line around the quad UPenn and it was for Warren Buffett,” he recalled.

Those were the biggest worries of college students, and according to Blumenthal, that’s where administration wants to go back to. “They don’t understand the era that we’re living through right now, and they don’t know what they’ve walked into,” he said.

“[Administration] expected you to put conformity before your conscience,” Blumenthal said, speaking to the students in the crowd. “And when you actually do the opposite, then they project their own values onto you … [The administrations] can’t accept that young people actually have principles … and they definitely don’t know anyone who’s willing to sacrifice their ambition, and their career for something that they truly believe in for their own humanity.”

“[Administration thinks] their threats will actually work,” Blumenthal said. “They’re not working. So we’re living through, thanks to this national uprising … We’re living through the ultimate mask off moment in America.”

Blumenthal examined his own personal and political experiences upon his graduation from UPenn in 1999 with a bachelor’s degree in history. He traveled to the Jeanine refugee camp in 2006 during the assault in southern Lebanon and again in 2008, when former President Barack Obama was elected. Blumenthal said that he struggled to understand why the Obama administration took no action when Israel assaulted the Gaza Strip.

In 2015, after returning from his first trip to Gaza, following Operation Protective Edge during the 2014 Gaza War, Blumenthal recalled witnessing the second major assault on Gaza and speaking at University of Michigan’s first major divestment.

“What we’re seeing now is, I wouldn’t even call it the culmination, but it is the product of so many efforts by so many students over the years,” Blumenthal said. “It’s ripped the mask off of our elite institutions, the most August institutions of the liberal democratic West, the legacy media, academia, the universities, the Democratic Party with Clinton, Obama and Biden. …We just see this hilariously hypocritical system in the throes of desperation, trying to stop this movement before it expands.”

The event included a panel discussion on right-wing efforts to silence pro-Palestinian voices, especially those who spoke out against Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestinian land.

The event was held with Jhally’s nonprofit organization Media Education Foundation, at the  Fine Arts Center. Panelists included Roger Waters (Co-founder, Pink Floyd), Linda Sarsour (Co-founder, MPower Change & Co-chair, The Women’s March), Dave Zirin (Sports Editor, The Nation Magazine) and moderated by Vijay Prashad (Director, Tricontinental Institute).

While several UMass departments were listed as event sponsors, several other organizations raised concerns with former Chancellor Subbaswamy over the sponsorship of the event.

Blumenthal went on to explain how the “historical narratives that form the foundations of Western exceptionalism” impacted Oct. 7. He explained the history of the domino effect which began in the ‘90s when the peace process began. Israel stated it was a Jewish state and the only democracy in the Middle East and it would end its illegal occupation of Palestine as soon as it found a partner for peace.

This necessary narrative, Blumenthal said, was used to justify the billions of dollars of aid extracted from the U.S. and given to Israel.

Blumenthal went on to say that his book, “Goliath,” which acknowledged these issues were a “warning to America as we’ve bankrolled that society, and granted it with total impunity showed it that there was no consequence for what it was preparing to do, and for the indoctrination of so many Jewish Israelis into this militarized system.”

Blumenthal further said that Israel would not accept the latest ceasefire that Hamas had accepted for its own political reasons because Israel “only cares about the lives of Jewish Israelis. There is no concern for the lives of Palestinians.”

Hostages are another major issue that both sides of the war are divided on. In Jewish-Israeli society many people are divided on the issue of whether the Israeli hostages may be killed as an extension of the Hannibal Directive, which is a controversial procedure that was used by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) until 2016 to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers and civilians by enemy forces. According to one version, it says that “the kidnapping must be stopped by all means, even at the price of striking and harming our own forces.”

“If [Israel] kills the hostages,” Blumenthal said. “Hamas has no bargaining leverage [and] no ability to negotiate. That’s how deep the culture of killing is. They will kill their own in order to destroy Hamas and complete what was begun in 1948. This is an existential war for Israel.”

As more news and information is revealed through the media and personal testimonies, the movement and student support grows. Social media and news coverage provides these students with platforms to speak and express their thoughts.

“As [students] join in, from within elite institutions like academia, America’s mask of liberal democracy has to be peeled back again and again and again, layer after layer in order to maintain a special relationship with a foreign apartheid state 5,000 miles away called Israel,” Blumenthal said. “You don’t have to be a radical, you could be an American nationalist, and be disgusted by what’s happening. The US is corroding its own carefully crafted image, its own as an exceptional shining city on a hill as Ronald Reagan called it.”

Overall, protesters, students, faculty, staff and bystanders “have an obligation to maintain a focus on Gaza,” Blumenthal said. He explained the destruction and defunding of universities that Israeli forces occupied and bombed. With this, the message that he wants to reinforce on campuses in America is that “business as usual cannot continue here when [the campuses in Gaza] are invested in mechanisms of assassinating intellectuals, academics, medical professionals, students and destroying the educational facilities of an entire population.”

Blumenthal concluded his speech with a small anecdote of Refaat Alareer, a man who “should be revered but [rather], is someone who is demonized.” After a column by Bari Weiss appeared, Alareer began having threats against his life from active-duty Israeli soldiers. One day, he had received a phone call from the Israeli military, telling him the military was going to come for him. At the time, Alareer was sheltering with his family in a school. When Alareer returned home, he was assassinated.

In Alareer’s last interview with Electronic Intifada, he said, “Soldiers may come for me. I don’t have a gun in my house [or] anything to resist with. But if they come for me, all I have here is an Expo marker. And I’ll throw the Expo marker at them [and] resist till my last breath.”

Blumenthal lifted his own pen in the air and waved it to the crowd, concluding, “There’s something everyone can do. …Even if you just have a marker, you have to throw the marker.”

When the discussion ended, Blumenthal was given a standing ovation. According to Jhally, Blumenthal was the “perfect person” for the event because not only were people interested in his discussion, but they were learning a lot of the situations at hand. The learning aspect, as Jhally said, “terrifies elites”.

Jhally theorized that Reyes wanted to send a message to any future protesters who may have been encouraged to follow similar tactics.

Despite the controversial topics, Jhally praised people such as Blumenthal and Norman Finkelstein who are not afraid of discussing the controversial topics. Jhally called universities and colleges such as UMass “the last independent place.”

Kalina Kornacki can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter @KalinaKornacki.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Massachusetts Daily Collegian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *