And a special "my take" with 12 thoughts about what we are seeing.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 13 minutes.

Today, we are covering the protests at elite college campuses across the country.

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Quick hits.

  1. The U.S. Senate passed the House's package of $95 billion of aid for Israel, Ukraine and Indo-Pacific security by a 79-18 vote, with 15 Republicans voting against. The Senate also approved a divestment or ban of TikTok. President Biden signed the package into law on Wednesday. (The approval)
  2. Publisher David Pecker took the stand in former President Donald Trump's criminal trial yesterday, detailing a 2015 agreement he made with Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen to purchase and kill negative stories about Trump during the 2016 campaign. (The testimony)
  3. The U.S. Justice Department settled claims with 139 women over the FBI's mishandling of sexual abuse allegations against former USA gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar. The DOJ will pay $139 million. (The settlement)
  4. A Russian court rejected the latest appeal from Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, meaning he will remain imprisoned until at least this summer. (The ruling)
  5. The Tennessee legislature passed a bill that will allow school staff to carry concealed firearms on school grounds. (The bill)

Today's topic.

Campus protests. Over the last week, protests on elite college campuses over Israel’s war in Gaza have boiled over, with hundreds of students arrested or suspended, and clashes between protestors and counter-protestors hitting a fever pitch.

A flashpoint has been Columbia University on the Upper West Side of New York, where student protests have a long and storied history (in 1968, a brutal crackdown on student protestors led the school to adopt reforms that favor student activism). Apartheid Divest, the coalition of student groups organizing the protests, has demanded that the school financially divest from companies and institutions that “profit from Israeli apartheid, genocide and occupation in Palestine." It has also demanded an academic boycott of Israeli universities, reparations and low-income housing for Harlem residents, an end to "targeted repression" of Palestinian students, the defunding of public safety services on campus, and a call for a ceasefire in Gaza from the university.

As tensions rose on campus, the university updated some of its policies to limit protests to certain times and designated areas of campus. Then, last Thursday, more than 100 students were arrested after the university called in the New York Police Department to clear out an encampment of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Minouche Shafik, Columbia's president, described the demonstrations as "unauthorized", adding that protestors were violating campus rules about when and where demonstrations were allowed. Last week, Shafik testified before a House committee, saying the school’s policies on student protests were initially “not up to the scale of this challenge.”

The NYPD, who arrived in riot gear and with zip ties, cleared out the encampment with little incident. Among the students arrested was Isra Hirsi, the daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN).

While Shafik hoped to turn down the temperature and normalize campus life, the decision to arrest and disperse the protestors instead started a new firestorm. Student activists responded by setting up a large new encampment on campus and were joined by throngs of protesters unaffiliated with the school, some of whom were filmed calling for violence or making antisemitic comments.

Hundreds of faculty members then held a mass walkout on Monday in solidarity with the arrested students, while Israeli professor Shai Davidai said he was barred from entering campus by officials who told him they couldn’t ensure his safety after he tried to lead a pro-Jewish rally. A campus rabbi urged Jewish students to go home early for Passover, saying campus was no longer safe. And on Tuesday, the school announced it will be offering remote classes for the rest of the semester due to campus unrest.

Meanwhile, college students on campuses across the country rallied in support of the arrested Columbia students. Dozens of protestors at Yale and New York University were also arrested while the gates of Harvard were closed to the public. There were also reports of students setting up their own encampments at MIT, Tufts, Emerson, the University of Michigan, the University of Minnesota, and the University of California, Berkeley.

Today, we're going to examine some arguments about these protests from the left and right, then my take.

What the left is saying.

  • The left has varying views on the protests, but many defend them against accusations of antisemitism.
  • Some say the students’ tactics are undermining their cause.
  • Others say the students are taking a stand for a just cause.

In New York Magazine, Sarah Jones said “student protesters are schooling their universities.”

“Difficult or controversial moments tend to reveal an institution’s true commitments, and universities like Columbia, it seems, don’t value critical thought as much as they value business as usual,” Jones wrote. “Administrators should perhaps use the intellectual skills that students themselves are expected to learn. It is patently unreasonable to equate all anti-Zionist political activity with antisemitism when many of the demonstrators are Jewish themselves. Any protest can attract bad actors, but that’s no reason to stop organizing.”

“As long as students remain peaceful, they are guilty of one thing only: embarrassing their universities by applying their education to the real world. At Columbia, they are not calling for violence but for the university to divest from companies that profit from Israeli occupation. And they have good reason to do so. As pundits wring their hands over the protests, students remind onlookers that the real horror is not on the American campus but in Gaza.”

In The New York Times, John McWhorter wrote “I’m a Columbia professor. The protests on my campus are not justice.”

“I thought about what would have happened if protesters were instead chanting anti-Black slogans, or even something like ‘D.E.I. has got to die,’ to the same ‘Sound Off’ tune that ‘From the river to the sea’ has been adapted to. They would have lasted roughly five minutes before masses of students shouted them down and drove them off the campus,” McWhorter said. “Why do so many people think that weekslong campus protests against not just the war in Gaza but Israel’s very existence are nevertheless permissible?”

“Calling all this peaceful stretches the use of the word rather implausibly. It’s an odd kind of peace when a local rabbi urges Jewish students to go home as soon as possible, when an Arab-Israeli activist is roughed up on Broadway, when the angry chanting becomes so constant that you almost start not to hear it and it starts to feel normal to see posters and clothing portraying Hamas as heroes,” McWhorter wrote. “I myself think the war on Gaza is no longer constructive or even coherent. However, the issues are complex, in ways that this uncompromising brand of power-battling is ill suited to address.”

In The Guardian, Robert Reich argued “protesting against slaughter — as students in the US are doing — isn’t antisemitism.”

“Protesting against this slaughter is not expressing antisemitism. It is not engaging in hate speech. It is not endangering Jewish students. It is doing what should be done on a college campus – taking a stand against a perceived wrong, thereby provoking discussion and debate,” Reich wrote. “The Israel-Hamas war is horrifying. The atrocities committed by both sides illustrate the capacities of human beings for inhumanity and show the vile consequences of hate. For these reasons, it presents an opportunity for students to re-examine their preconceptions and learn from one another.”

“The mission of a university is to coach students in how to learn, not tell them what to think. It is to invite debate, not suppress it. Truth is a process and method – more verb than noun,” Reich added. “Which is why universities should encourage and protect unpopular views. It’s why unpopular speakers should be invited and welcomed to campus… And why peaceful demonstrations should be encouraged, not shut down. It is never appropriate to call in armed police to arrest peaceful student demonstrators.”

What the right is saying.

  • The right is angered by the protests and argue they aren’t protected by the First Amendment.
  • Some suggest today’s universities are fomenting hate among students.
  • Others equate the protests to past antisemitic rallies.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board argued “anti-Israel protesters invoke a First Amendment they don’t understand.”

“Universities are supposed to be places where students and faculty can debate politics and other subjects without fear or censure. As the anti-Israel protests spread at Columbia, Yale, Harvard, New York University and elsewhere, however, progressives are claiming that any restriction on the protesters is a violation of free speech. That isn’t true, and it’s important to understand why,” the board wrote. The First Amendment “doesn’t apply to private citizens or institutions except in rare instances when they are acting as government agents.”

“Columbia’s code of conduct says a person violates the rules who ‘engages in conduct that places another in danger of bodily harm,’ or ‘uses words that threaten bodily harm in a situation where there is clear and present danger of such bodily harm,’” the board said. “Protesters also don’t have a ‘right’ to assemble on school property to disrupt the functioning of the university or intimidate students on the way to class. Even at a public university, all these rules would constitute reasonable restrictions on the time, place and manner of speech.”

In The Washington Examiner, Zachary Faria wrote “‘elite’ colleges are molding a new generation of hateful people.”

“These universities are either feigning outrage over these protests or are simply run by people who are too foolish to understand that their ideology is what created this environment. These universities have embraced the ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ ideology that colors the world through ‘oppressors’ and ‘oppressed.’ That worldview places Palestinian terrorists firmly in the perennially ‘oppressed’ category,” Faria said. “Columbia has fostered the very environment that leads to antisemitic students thinking they have a right, and even a moral obligation, to harass Jewish students.

“These universities are helping to mold the next generation of Americans into hateful antisemites and racists, urging them to view the world through these oppressor-oppressed narratives based on people’s skin colors or, in these cases, people’s Palestinian or Jewish identities. The common throughline with these protests and antisemitic threats is that they are occurring on college campuses and being perpetrated by college students. The universities bear a lot of responsibility for encouraging this behavior and fostering these environments.”

In Townhall, Matt Vespa said “the left gets its own Charlottesville.”

“These rallies may not have tiki torches, but the hatred of Jews emanating from these demonstrations is not so dissimilar from the right-wing goons who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and chanted, ‘Jews will not replace us.’ The only difference is that neo-Nazism in America is an extreme minority,” Vespa wrote. “The pro-Hamas army we're dealing with is comprised of not just college students but urban professionals, actors, and other influential figures that dominate America's cultural centers… Colleges are the factories where the next generation of leaders are being educated, and they all hate Jews and Israel.”

“The media can't ignore this, either. It's happening in their backyard, where their headquarters are located, and where they tap to get new hires and interns for the summer. They're all anti-Jewish, anti-Israel bigots who apparently can't wait to see another October 7-like attack from Hamas,” Vespa said. “There's no hiding the hatred of Jews, the pro-Hamas advocacy among the crowds, and the president trying to walk a path of denouncing the rallies so as not to lose Jewish Democrats or the young voters who are as bloodthirsty as the radical Islamic terrorists we’re trying to defeat.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

It's gotten so tough to organize my thoughts on this that instead of trying to draft one cohesive "My take," I'm going to share 12 independent thoughts I have in reaction to these protests.

  1. I have to be honest about something: I'm really starting to hate writing about anything related to Israel or Gaza. I feel like I can't write authentically about this latest controversy without acknowledging that first. I’ve written this newsletter five days a week for nearly five years, covering COVID, abortion, gun control, trans issues, immigration, and every other controversial topic out there. I’ve never felt the kind of deranged tension I feel right now. For every sentence I write, there are people on one side accusing me of being complicit in a genocide and people on the other side accusing me of contributing to the killing and hatred of Jews. For anyone speaking on this topic publicly, the environment is so untenable, so unhelpful, so fraught, that it's no wonder we are seeing protests like these play out on college campuses. It makes me both want to run to my corner of like-minded people and just shut up and disappear.
  2. A very, very large part of me does not care at all about what is happening on these campuses. I understand these students are “future leaders” and the “next generation,” but we should remember what it’s like to be their age. I went to college not that long ago. I barely remember it. When I was a teenager, I was still learning not to call things “gay” that I didn’t like. In college, I thought Natural Ice was a good beer and Barack Obama was going to unite the country. In 10 years those kids are going to look back on some of their ideas and actions now and think they were idiots. I’m sure in 10 years I'll look back on some of the things I believe now and laugh. 20-year-olds are not wizened foreign policy experts; 20-year-olds are 20-year-olds. I’m interested in their opinions, but they don’t keep me up at night. They are growing, evolving, ignorant young adults who deserve space to be wrong and screw up. That’s what college is about. When I see 30 college kids from NYU chanting "from the river to the sea," a chant that means vastly different things to different people, it ranks as about the 212th most important or notable or interesting thing I saw that hour, let alone that day or week or month. I do not know why we continue to focus on these kids so much, or call for ruining their careers, or insist we need to send in the troops against them. I hate feeling like I am falling into the trap by giving the protests any more coverage in this newsletter.
  3. If I were ranking the importance of the actions of Hamas and the Israeli governments to the war in Gaza on a scale from 1 to 100, I would put them both somewhere in the 90 to 100 range. If I were ranking the importance of what was happening on a half-dozen elite college campuses in the U.S. on the same scale, I'd score them less than 5. Yet, in the context of the conflict, government actions and campus protests receive about the same amount of media coverage in the U.S. I have no idea how to reconcile this. I am happy to say we've covered the former a lot more than the latter, but I can't figure out the obsessiveness of so many reporters and pundits — on both the left and the right — with such minor players in the story. 
  4. All students have a right to protest. In fact, I encourage them to protest (though they should find some time to study, too). Movements like the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement are perfectly rational ways to protest Israel. Personally, I hope the BDS movement fails because I oppose its goal. I sometimes scoff at it because I do not think getting Columbia to rid itself of some $200,000 investment in an Israeli company is going to meaningfully change anything (not to mention, genuine divestment is easier said than done). I do not think Columbia University, its professors, its dean, or anyone on its faculty are “complicit” in anything Israel’s war cabinet decides to do 7,000 miles away, and I actually find the idea pretty silly. But guess what? It is a non-violent form of protest that offers tangible action for genuine objections to policy. When you criminalize or stifle non-violent protests like that, you often get violent protests instead. This is one thread of the story of pro-Palestine activists: Many non-violent, peaceful pro-Palestinian demonstrators end up being criminalized, silenced, or killed. Criminalizing or trying to destroy movements like BDS is therefore dangerous and counterproductive. Argue with them if you like, but let them be.
  5. Student activism is a great way to learn and participate in democracy. Non-violent student activism is excellent. It is legal. It is not (and should not) be a violation of school rules. At the same time, if you are a student and your school makes simple rules about student protests like, say, "you can't protest on this lawn or at this time," and then you break those rules, you should be prepared to get suspended or arrested. Schools are responsible for not making rules so arduous they effectively restrict or end student activism, and students are responsible for following reasonable rules. Columbia’s initial update to their rules on protesting were overly restrictive and were rightly criticized. Then they set some reasonable rules that ensured students could attend class without too much interruption, and many of the protestors intentionally violated those rules. So they got in trouble. 
  6. I've never felt my own Jewishness more acutely, and never felt so surrounded by antisemitism more definitively. I know there is a difference between antisemitism and anti-Zionism. I preach that difference. Many of the pro-Palestine protestors at Columbia and on these campuses are, in fact, Jewish. But in the last few months, I am telling you that I have seen more videos of blatant antisemitism and more social media posts from friends that promote antisemitic ideas than ever before in my entire life. I feel like my perspective on how many people out there hate Jews or see us as evil, self-righteous, conniving people has shifted in an irretrievable way. I am not typically prone to these thoughts or feelings, so I can’t imagine how other Jews who are prone to those thoughts are feeling. This is deeply disturbing to me.
  7. There are some genuinely frightening things happening on or around Columbia’s campus. We need to delineate between students and outside protestors who show up and do awful things. For instance, a video has been widely circulated of pro-Palestine protests outside Columbia University cheering on the militant leaders of Hamas and calling for the bombing of Tel Aviv, a city of half a million Jews, Muslims, Arabs, and Israelis. These are violent threats that should not be tolerated anywhere on a college campus. They are representative of a thread of the extremist pro-Palestine movement that I find incredibly frightening. Still, as far as I can tell, those aren’t students and they don’t appear to be on campus. So let’s not conflate the two.
  8. That doesn’t mean some students aren’t doing some objectively awful things at Columbia. There are videos and firsthand accounts of Jewish students being assaulted, told to “go back to Poland,” or prohibited from entering spaces on their own campus. This is an affront to the safety and the freedom of Jewish students, and the university president must ensure that those students can participate in campus life freely. That a rabbi at Columbia feels the need to warn Jewish students they aren’t safe on campus (however alarmist it might have been) is quite frightening.
  9. There are also some genuinely embarrassing videos of “pro-Israel” people trying to make innocent things look violent or make themselves into victims. For instance, a pro-Israel account tweeted a video of a bunch of protestors cheerfully dancing in a circle and called it a “cult-like tribal dance.” Another X user posted a video of a woman in a shirt that says “Jew” with a Star of David painted onto it standing in the middle of protesters while precisely zero people pay her any mind or care that she is there. Then there’s the Israeli professor at Columbia, Shai Davidai, who makes me very uncomfortable. He seems to seek out cameras, viral moments, and confrontation as much as he can, to get attention, clicks, and social media clout. Victimization porn is becoming more and more common in our country, but I assure you there are enough bad actors out there that no one needs to manufacture any additional tension. 
  10. I can’t believe I have to say this, but the vast majority of the students protesting on these campuses are probably good kids who feel horrified by the things they see happening in Gaza. It’s really that simple. They log onto social media and see videos like this and feel compelled to do something – anything. That is a human and normal and empathetic reaction to war. War is horrific. Many of us become numb to it as we age, but we shouldn’t. Having that reaction doesn’t make them evil Jew-hating terrorist-lovers. Even the ones doing or saying the worst things are almost certainly retrievable, having followed a good impulse into dark territory. As of this morning, many of the protestors are now cooperating with the school to break down tents and keep non-students off campus. Isolating and demonizing these kids now in response to their earnest commitment to a cause will only radicalize them further. 
  11. I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: In the news, we are inundated with stories of protest, clashes, and division. There are never headlines that read “Peaceful Day On 99% Of U.S. College Campuses!” even though that headline could run any day of the year, including yesterday. There was no front page story about the Palestinian and Israeli who both lost relatives in this conflict and then shared a TED stage together last week. The people who organize interfaith meetings to have dialogue about the conflict don’t get invited onto CNN or Fox News. Most of us will learn the names of Israel’s war cabinet or the head of Hamas’s military wing, but far fewer will learn about the people leading peace negotiations and ceasefire deals. This is how things are, and I hate it; but don’t be fooled into thinking the entire world is burning with animosity. It isn’t.
  12. All of this campus obsession is distracting from the actual war that is going on in Gaza right now. When we covered Israel’s strike that killed workers from World Central Kitchen, I said it provided another example of how continuing this war is going to do long-term damage to Israel’s image and thus Israel’s future — which is core to my “Zionist case for a ceasefire” argument. I have to point out that the unrest and division this war is causing in the U.S. is also part of the Zionist case for a ceasefire. It is part of what I mean when I say this war is making Jews across the globe less safe. Animosity toward Israel is sometimes just anti-Zionism. It is sometimes antisemitism. And sometimes, anti-Zionism morphs into antisemitism before our eyes. Along with the 11 other thoughts above, one takeaway I have from all of this is that my worst fears about what would happen without a ceasefire continue to come true. 

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Under the radar.

Pennsylvania held its presidential primary yesterday with very little fanfare, as victories for both President Biden and former President Trump were pre-ordained. However, one surprising storyline emerged from the vote: Roughly 16% of GOP voters cast a ballot for Nikki Haley, despite the Republican primary being over for more than a month. Pennsylvania is considered the key to the White House in 2024, and whichever candidate wins there will have the easiest path to winning the election. In 2020 Biden won it by about 80,000 votes. In 2016, Trump won it by about 68,000 votes. On Tuesday, Haley received over 156,000 votes. Axios has the story


  • 73%. The percentage of Jewish college students in the U.S. who said they experienced or saw antisemitic incidents during the first semester of the 2023-24 school year, according to a November 2023 poll by the Anti-Defamation League and Hillel International.
  • 39%. The percentage of Jewish college students who said they felt comfortable with others on their campus knowing they’re Jewish after Oct. 7. 
  • 100. The number of incidents of Islamophobia on U.S. campuses reported to the group Muslim Campus Life since Oct. 7. 
  • 52%. The percentage of Muslim students who said they felt personally in danger on their campus after Oct. 7, according to a March 2024 survey of campuses by The University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Threats. 
  • 11%. The percentage of students who reported attending a march or protest on behalf of Palestinians in the two months following Oct. 7. 
  • 6%. The percentage of students who reported attending a march or protest on behalf of Israel in the two months following Oct. 7. 
  • 64%. The percentage of Americans aged 18-24 who said they had a favorable view of Israel in 2023, according to Gallup. 
  • 38%. The percentage of Americans aged 18-24 who said they had a favorable view of Israel in 2024.

The extras.

Yesterday’s survey: 723 readers answered our survey on FISA reauthorization with 54% mostly or strongly opposed. “Increased security often comes at the cost of less freedom. This is as true for computer systems as it is for citizens,” one respondent said.

How important to you are the campus protests over Israel? Let us know!

Have a nice day.

Recent polling from AP-NORC shows that Americans are not as divided as we may think. While political division is entrenched in our government institutions and our mediasphere, and divides are deep on certain issues, Americans overwhelmingly agree on the most fundamental things. Over 90% of adults AP-NORC surveyed said the right to equal protection under the law, the right to vote, and freedom of speech are important to the country’s identity. Even the right to bear arms, an often divisive principle, is deemed important or somewhat important by 78% of people. Axios has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.