Almost everybody has a take on the US campus protests — even Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who compares it to the anti-semitism of Hitler’s Nazi Germany.

The Grand Old Party in America was not too far behind when it saw anti-Semitic “thugs” on a rampage in colleges from California to New York and beyond. US President Joe Biden respects free speech while cautioning for law and order.

And for the students who have pitched tents on the lawns of colleges and universities, the message is quite simple: an end to the atrocious goings on in the Gaza that has all the signs of American involvement without boots on the ground.

Amidst this din, law makers in Washington DC cutting across party lines have sought to define what anti-Semitism is all about with some of the more hardline rightist politicians seeing an “infiltration” of outsiders in the ongoing protests, whatever that means.

Election fallout

In a Presidential election that is only some six months away, Republicans and Democrats are trying every trick to make a political point. To the GOP, it is all the fault of President Biden — in his inability or even brazen reluctance to rein in the radical far left; to former President Donald Trump it is a simple issue of law and order and how “beautiful” it was to see the New York Police go in and clear out the demonstrators, and all within two hours!

Biden is walking a tight rope between free speech and expression and maintaining order and decorum on campuses. Cutting across political spectrums, many are appalled that the President has not directly addressed the issue, leaving it to his aides to come up with all sorts of characterisations and in the process making sure not to offend the various “wings” of the Democratic Party, especially the college going youngsters, progressives and independents.

The White House and the administration are torn between support to a traditional ally and its inability to pressure right wing hawks in Israel not to up the ante. The outlines of a genocide in the Gaza have been made out a long time ago with some 35,000 dead, thousands believed to be buried in the rubble with much of the population going without basic essentials like water, electricity and hospital facilities. Reports of the International Criminal Court getting ready with warrants for top Israeli officials have made matters worse.

For the last few weeks there has been the tendency in some quarters to compare the goings-on in American campuses to the heady days of the Vietnam War protests, although such comparisons might not be wholly appropriate.

Unrest of the 1960s and 1970s had a mix of civil rights movement, an unwinnable war that raised the consciousness of America and the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. that roiled the country.

Vietnam War protests had boots, body bags and racial overtones. In 1965 African Americans are said to have accounted for more than 30 per cent of ground combat battalions in Vietnam when by a minority they accounted for just 12 per cent of the American population; and in 1965 African Americans accounted for nearly 25 per cent of the army’s casualties.

Be that as it may, political parties and politicians are out in strength to explore and exploit vulnerabilities.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations