Monday, May 6, 2024

The Times Are A-Changin'

The college protests over the Gaza war are causing me to reminisce. They remind me of the antiwar demonstrations I participated in while a college student in the late 1960’s. Back then young men were being drafted to fight in a war in Southeast Asia that many of us saw as immoral. 

At the time we were not old enough to vote against the politicians who were sending us to war. (Draft age was 18 and voting age was 21 until 1971.) So we made our voices heard the only way we could. The same thing can be said of the civil rights movement of that era. If you aren’t allowed to vote, you find some other way to make your voice heard. That time in my life shaped my spirituality and gave me an appreciation for the lives and writings of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King. 

Today’s protests are somewhat different. From what I understand, the protests of 2024 have more in common with the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980’s, calling for the universities to disinvest from a nation that was seen as unjust and oppressive. All these protests have the common feature of the exercise of free speech. 

Universities should protect free speech. That is especially true of the expression of views that are unpopular with the government. Of course, society needs to deal with political violence, but universities are crushing free speech using police action even when the protests are peaceful and nonviolent. They are choosing armed force as a first response rather than a last resort.  

The swift suppression of free speech on college campuses is being advocated by both the political right and left, Republicans and Democrats. That is because both major political parties are uncritically pro-Israel and want to silence alternative views. Protesters are instantly labeled antisemitic and terrorist sympathizers.  

Politicians are not hearing what these voices from college campuses are saying. They never stop to think they may have something to learn from these students. They never open their minds to the possibility that there may be another way to view the struggle between Israelis and Palestinians.  

Most of the protesters calling for an end to the Gaza war are not antisemitic or terrorists any more than those who opposed the Vietnam War were anti-American or communists. They want peace and justice for all parties involved. They want an end to the suffering and what they see as biased foreign policy. They do not want American tax dollars being used to bombard and starve civilians.  

If American policy is any indication, Americans view Israeli lives as more worthy to be protected than Palestinian lives. That is a problem. All lives matter. The 34,000 lives lost in the Gaza war are just as valuable as the 1200 lives lost in the Hamas terrorist attack. All lives are sacred. All people are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable human rightsIt is not about taking sides. It is about human life, freedom and justice.  

From a spiritual perspective there are no Israelis and Palestinians, no Arabs and Jews. We are all one humanity, made in the image of God. Nations are accidents of geography. Borders are nothing more than lines drawn in shifting sand. Race is a miniscule variation of genes; we are all sisters and brothers.  Ideologies are castles in the air. Religions are creations of the human mind.  

There are no essential differences between people. We are all one. Our neighbor is ourself. God commands, “Love you neighbor as yourself.” Our neighbor is the image of God reflected to us. Therefore how we treat our neighbor reveals our attitude to their Creator. “What you do to the least of these my brothers and sisters you do to me,” said Jesus. Gandhi said, “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”  

Look how American society treats the homeless and immigrants, Jews and Muslims. See how people in the Holy Land are being treated. There is no justification for the murder of 1200 Israeli civilians on October 7. And there is no justification for the killing of 34,000 Gazans, most of them civilians and children.  

The young people on our college campuses are seeing what most older Americans cannot see. This is a generation that was not born when 9/11 happened. WWII and the Holocaust are ancient history. They cannot remember a time when Israel was not a Middle Eastern superpower. They see only the disproportionate bombing and starvation of a vulnerable civilian population in Gaza by a superior military power. They cannot see how it can be justified. 

Young people are calling attention to a serious moral problem in American policy toward Israel and Gaza. But our leaders are tone deaf. They are not listening. They are not willing to consider the possibility of changing American foreign policy in the regionThey are stuck in the past. That needs to change. Perhaps these demonstrations are the beginning of that change. I hope so. As Dylan sang, “the times they are a-changin'.” 

Come mothers and fathers 
Throughout the land 
And don't criticize 
What you can't understand 
Your sons and your daughters 
Are beyond your command 
Your old road is rapidly agin' 
Please get out of the new one 
If you can't lend your hand 
For the times they are a-changin' 

1 comment:

Rev. Dr. Ernest Boyer said...

Once again I entirely agree with you, Marshall. I too was part of those long ago protests against the war in Vietnam and in favor of Civil Rights, and these current campus protests strike me also as saying what needs to be said (apart from some occasional chants that do sound disturbingly anti-Jewish to me rather than anti-Israeli policy.) The timing of your post is synchronistic. As it turns out, I am scheduled today to take part in what looks like it will be a profoundly soul-searching discussion of Gaza and Israeal by the members of a group of Interfaith Clergy that has been meeting together for over a decade now. The group includes a Muslim Imam, two Rabbis, and several Buddhists as will as every flavor of Christian. It is one of the most loving groups I have ever been part of. The recent events in Gaza have been a source of deep pain to all the members of this group as well as to the group as a whole, and we have set aside today for some open and honest sharing of what we are feeling, preaching, and praying about with regard to what is happening there. It won't be an easy discussion, but I know it will be insightful, genuine, and loving. I will take your post with me and quote parts of it if the occasion lends itself to that. As always, thank you. Ernest Boyer, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Gilroy, CA. (By the way, the email you have for me no longer works. I can be reached at