From foreign wars to culture wars, pro-Palestinian campus protesters are (incidentally) changing the media narrative

Pro-Palestinian protesters erected an encampment on the quad at Columbia University, pictured here on April 21, 2024. (Photo by Abbad Diraneyya/Wikimedia Commons)

As pro-Palestinian encampments pop up across Canadian campuses this week, protesting against university ties to Israel and threatening to keep their tents pitched until the war in Gaza ends, it helps to understand the broader context of how this all began. And if you ask the Columbia University students at ground zero of this movement how they feel about the media circus they’ve created, they’ll tell you frankly: they didn’t ask for it.

That’s what many of them told Justin Ling, a Montreal-based freelance reporter who visited the New York university to see the original tent city firsthand. But that deflection belies an inescapable paradox. Maybe they didn’t want all this media attention, but they’ve made themselves the main characters of this story, shifting the focus from a faraway foreign war to North America’s culture wars. Now the movement has snowballed into something far greater.

Ling joins Bonjour Chai to explain what he saw, share his takeaways and debate with the hosts about the merits of student activism—and whether it should be allowed at all.

What we talked about

Credits

Bonjour Chai is hosted by Avi Finegold and Phoebe Maltz Bovy. Zachary Kauffman is the producer and editor. Michael Fraiman is the executive producer. Our theme music is by Socalled. The show is a co-production from The Jewish Learning Lab and The CJN, and is distributed by The CJN Podcast Network. Support the show by subscribing to this podcast, donating to The CJN and subscribing to the podcast’s Substack.