These past few weeks, we’ve witnessed a new and terrifying phenomenon: The banlieue-ization of American cities and college campuses.
Just like the French suburbs that catch fire, quite literally, every time their disgruntled residents decide that they’re not fond of a particular policy or bit of breaking news, we now have bonfires in Bay Ridge and pinheads at Penn marching around and cheering on Jewish genocide. And just like those French suburbs, one major reason for this vile and violent degeneracy is a new generation of young people who no longer feel bound to their fellow citizens in any meaningful way.
Watching Brooklynites burn down the block while calling for the destruction of the world’s sole Jewish state upset me not only because of what it might mean for Israel, where I was born, but also, and much more so, because of what it means for America, where I choose to live.
I’m an immigrant to this great country. I spent a handful of my most formative boyhood months crouching in a bomb shelter on the outskirts of my native Tel Aviv, watching Saddam Hussein’s Scud rockets bursting in air as American Patriot missiles intercepted them before they could wreak havoc. Seeing American soldiers fighting abroad for freedom—my freedom—moved me deeply. It inspired me, as soon as I was able, to move here, to fly a large American flag outside my apartment door, and to raise my American children to cherish this nation and its divinely inspired mandate of pursuing life, liberty, and happiness.
The most extraordinary thing about my personal story is how ordinary it is. Bay Ridge, the charming neighborhood in the southwest corner of Brooklyn where some of the worst pro-Hamas riots erupted last week, is itself a tapestry of so many similar stories of young men and women coming to America in search of its goodness and greatness. The neighborhood was once home to America’s largest Norwegian community; then came the Italians and the Irish and the Greeks, followed by the Puerto Ricans and the Mexicans, the Jordanians and the Egyptians and the Syrians. Different people, different ethnicities, different faiths, yet a shared sense of place and, more importantly, of destiny. Whatever else these immigrants believed, whatever else they carried with them from their homelands, they all had this in common: America was their home, and you don’t set your home on fire.
To answer this question, consider the two things press reports tell us for certain about the rioters: Most are young, and most are of Middle Eastern descent.
Why would these youthful Americans, hailing from Staten Island and Brooklyn and Queens, throw punches and pelt the police with eggs? Their parents, after all, never did—not during previous rounds of Israeli-Palestinian altercations, not during America’s failure to keep its promise and intervene as Syria’s Assad massacred hundreds of thousands of his own people, not even during America’s bungled invasion of Iraq. Why would the young riot now?
Like all grim and weighty questions, this one, too, resists a simple explanation. In part, it may be because these kids arrested in Bay Ridge, many of them native New Yorkers, got their education from a morally bankrupt school system held hostage by a pernicious union that was quick to co-sponsor one of the first pro-Hamas rallies in the city and defend teachers who giddily supported terrorism. Not that the Department of Education itself is much better: Teachers turning to the city’s official guide in search of resources to help explain this war and its origins will discover gems such as these, from the Arab-funded Middle East Policy Council, informing anyone curious that “Israel has neither the moral legitimacy nor the national interest to refuse to negotiate with Palestinian organizations that have employed terrorism, particularly Hamas.”
In part, it may be because our colleges have committed themselves not to the free and unfettered exchange of ideas but to peddling the sort of paganism that drives some professors in Ivy League schools to behold the beheading of babies and feel “exhilarated” at such “awesome” examples of “innovative Palestinian resistance.”
In part, it may be because our most chic magazines now employ bozos who were quick to take to social media and accuse Jews of collaborating with the Nazis or, at the very least, of vastly exaggerating the reports of their own suffering. “Last night,” confessed one such self-styled moral authority, New York feature writer Eric Levitz, “I asserted that this report indicated that babies were beheaded. This was an overstatement. I should have said that the report established that babies were found headless, a fact that lends plausibility to claims of beheading, but which does not prove them.”
And in part it may be because anyone knocking about New York during the riots that followed George Floyd’s death in 2020 internalized all too well the message sent by everyone, from the mayor upward to the Democrat Party’s leadership—that it’s alright to loot stores, vandalize synagogues, and toss Molotov cocktails at cop cars, as long as you’re wilding out in the name of social justice.
The list goes on, and it tells a sordid story. Unlike the rageful youth in Paris, Lyon, or Marseilles, our rioters aren’t the hopeless products of lawless enclaves, segregated from the rest of society. They’re our friends and neighbors, the kid sitting next to us in class or the go-getter acing that internship with the Anti-Defamation League, only to turn around and tear down posters of Israeli citizens held captive by Hamas.
And their hatred isn’t a bug—it’s a feature, a core tenet of identity that has no rational explanation or excuse. In our classrooms and our newsrooms, in our streets and our chambers of government, we’re rearing a generation to express nothing but contempt for that most foundational of our shared virtues—the idea that, though we come from different backgrounds and profess different beliefs, we are all, first and foremost, Americans.
The violation of this sacred principle is nothing short of disastrous. And we’ve only just begun. It’s not hard, for anyone who observed the vitriol on display these last few weeks, to imagine one of those inflamed haters picking up a firearm and moseying over to the nearest synagogue, say, or to the office of an elected official supporting Israel. To paraphrase a prophet of American anger, it’s the firearm next time.
Let’s not wait for such monstrosities. Instead, let us act now.
How? There is, alas, no easy fix that can patch up so many pillars of society showing so many cracks. For that, we need to reflect on five decades of American life, politics, and culture, and ask ourselves why and how we’ve allowed our most essential institutions to be rotted by this mind virus and breed so many barbarians bent on destruction. But as we reflect, we can take some immediate actions.
First, there’s Senator Tom Cotton’s excellent proposal, shared by Governor Ron DeSantis and other prominent Republicans, to respect federal law and immediately deport any foreign national supporting Hamas, designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997. This should include students here on student visas, which may rankle some: Doesn’t the First Amendment protect all manner of free speech? And shouldn’t college kids, young and impressionable, be allowed to dabble in ideas, saying silly and heated things they’ll come to regret and reject as they grow older and wiser?
The answer is yes: free speech is a right, as is the freedom to try on any ideological garb, no matter how odious. But these liberties do not guarantee freedom from consequence: root for the beheaders of Jewish babies, and you should be invited to continue and do so from the comfort of your own home—far away from America, where such ideas are discouraged by both our morals and our laws. That’s an easy enough solution to a real problem, and the federal government should crack down on these haters with every tool at its disposal, including carefully screening newly arrived immigrants to make sure that they don’t share the same murderous inclinations.
But that only gets us so far. Next, we should pay serious attention to a letter, signed by 30 major Jewish organizations and calling on universities to withdraw recognition and support from campus groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, which have sponsored numerous pro-Hamas rallies across the nation.
Here, too, the federal government can help: former president Donald Trump issued an executive order extending the protections offered by Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to include Jews, a move thankfully affirmed by the Biden administration earlier this year. In May, the Department of Education sent a Dear Colleague letter reminding educators that “schools must take immediate and appropriate action to respond to harassment that creates a hostile environment”—something that most American universities, CUNY first and foremost, have failed to do. Moving forward, any school that gets state or federal funding and allows such intimidating theatrics as sending mock eviction notices to Jewish students, setting up checkpoints to simulate Israeli “apartheid,” or otherwise protesting violently—all well-worn tactics of Jew-haters on campus—should expect the cash flow to stop immediately. In private schools, too, donors should ask themselves, before signing more checks, whether they’d like to give even a dime to a school that trains anti-American arsonists. Thankfully, at Harvard, in the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, we’re seeing that sort of pressure bearing fruit.
These suggestions are far from exhaustive. And they’re all more or less useless unless they’re supported by an understanding that the battles raging on the streets and in the quads these days aren’t about Israel; they’re about America. If we want red, white, and blue banlieues, if we want the sort of sectarian violence that we see regularly in the Middle East but rarely on these shores, if we want the politics of virulent tribalism, let us continue to do nothing. But if we hope to sustain the principles and ethos that made this country a beacon for the world, we need to extinguish these fires before they burn us all up.
Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images