‘Are you now or have you ever been against genocide?’: The new repression
Jose Luis Magana / AP

LOS ANGELES—University administrators are being called before Congress, where they must betray their own students and pledge allegiance to a new wave of repression hitting academia.

Their appearance is judged as either “hostile,” which means they (usually minimally) affirm some semblance of the right to free speech, or “friendly,” which means they utterly betray their students and attempt to ally themselves with the repression—or take their cue from Congress and shortly after their appearance, as was the case with Columbia University, to thwart calls for them to lose their jobs, summon the police to halt the protests.

Along with this appearance before the tribunal, which this week will feature the chancellor of UCLA in an effort to reprimand the activism of the statewide University of California students, is a mandatory pledge of allegiance that must be made where protests against the genocide in Gaza must be labeled “anti-Semitic” rather than “anti-Zionist,” that is protests against the murderous policies of the Israeli state.

HUAC resister actor Lionel Stander before the committee in hearings designed to silence Hollywood creative personnel.

Here, the question “Do you condemn Hamas? Yes or No?”—the question itself designed to eliminate all historical illumination of the situation—is the litmus test for whether or not the person who answers will be allowed to continue to participate in public discourse.

If this sounds familiar, especially as practiced in Los Angeles, it is because there are extreme echoes of that scourge of American history, the Blacklist Era, where in 1947 but more trenchantly in 1951, the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) held hearings in which they called on witnesses asking them to betray their fellows and answer the question “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

The question, by the way, was preceded by an even more important question for the committee, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Screen Writers Guild?” indicating the attack on the supposedly subversive Communist Party was at its core an attack on all kinds of New Deal and post-World War II progressive forces whose strongest expression was workers organizing for their workplace rights. Now, in 2024, the attack is for the purpose of discrediting global solidarity against an openly murderous apartheid state.

In the 1951-52 return of HUAC to Hollywood, hundreds of writers, actors, directors (as well as teachers, lawyers, and doctors) lost their jobs and spent years being surveilled by the FBI and hounded out of whatever employment they might scrape up either within the film and television industry or outside.

Today, the repression of the students increases with widespread arrests, sometimes, as was the case at UC San Diego with no charge, and other times charging the students protesting on their own campus with “trespassing.” The latest silencing technique utilizes the Harvard example of threatening to expel students who must pay the maximum penalty for exercising their right to protest and free speech.

UNAM, National University of Mexico student protests.

This repression cannot conceal the fact, however, that the student cause is gaining steam and that the majority of Americans, in one recent poll 55%, and 75% of Democrats, oppose the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza.

The protests which began on one campus, Columbia University in New York, have in the last count spread to over 140 campuses and are now a feature of university life not only in the U.S. but also throughout North America and the world. The repression now is also widespread, with over 2,900 students arrested.

In Canada, there are now protests in Montreal at both McGill and Concordia Universities and at the University of Toronto, and in Mexico protestors at UNAM, the National University of Mexico, have been even more forthright in their demands, calling not just for a ceasefire but for a “halt to the genocide and an end to the Zionist occupation.” They are asking to “break diplomatic relations with Israel” and even more stridently to “end the collaboration with corporations sustaining the genocide” whom they name as “Google, Hewlett Packard, and IBM among others.”

In France, a main encampment was located at Science Po (Science Politique or Political Science) the ultra-elite university training ground of the diplomatic corps and current President Emmanuel Macron’s alma mater. At another elite university, the Sorbonne, a week after 86 students were arrested for occupying an amphitheater, 200 students gathered on campus chanting, “The Nakba [the original 1948 occupation and dispossession] never ended!”

The students at UCLA who, after the attack by armed pro-Israel thugs dressed in black, still maintain a daily teach-in on such topics as the Nakba and the massacre in the 1960s at Jackson State, the lesser-known site of violence against Black students that occurred after the shootings at Kent State as part of an earlier anti-war movement. The students, when queried, pointed to the involvement of the university in the military-industrial complex which supports the genocide. At the bottom of Royce Hall, where the encampment occurred, are plaques honoring donors from the defense industry (Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin) and right-wing media (Hearst Corporation, Howard Hughes, and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation).

Another historical parallel occurred on the night of the attack on the encampment. Helicopters buzzed overhead as masked men yelling pro-Israeli slogans threw fireworks into the protest site, beat the protestors, and assaulted them with pepper spray and bear mace in what one observer described as “hours of unchecked violence.” There was no real investigation of who these thugs were, erroneously identified in the mainstream media as “counter-protesters,” but there have been suggestions that they were ex-members of the IDF, Israeli Defense Forces, resettled in L.A. One of the techniques used to drive demonstrators out of the campus involved playing a loop of a crying child so no one could sleep, a technique that is a military interrogation strategy as the aural equivalent of waterboarding.

The police were called, stood by, and watched the carnage without trying to stop it. The next night, they arrived to arrest the actual protesters, the victims of the violence of the previous night. These actions recall the Zoot Suit Riots, or more accurately Rebellion, in wartime L.A., where gangs of servicemen attacked Latino youth, tearing the colorful clothes off them as the youth paraded downtown, and then roaming through the Latino district of Boyle Heights with residents reporting they feared for their lives. The police watched the rampage and then arrested, not the servicemen, but the Latino teens. (The scene is detailed in my novel, The Precinct With The Golden Arm.)

Melissa Barrera in and then out of the Scream franchise.

In response to the violence directed against those protesting genocide, UCLA hired an ex-Sacramento Police Chief to be the head of the newly created Office of Campus Security, a move which one faculty member described as further “militarizing” the campus and contributing to what another member described as “the quasi-criminalization of free speech.”

The attempt to silence what is the majority opinion in the country through media repression had its HUAC and blacklisting echo in the demotion of the Latina actress Melissa Barrera for in effect being “prematurely anti-genocide” in speaking out in November when the attack on Gaza began. Barrera and Jennie Ortega had starring roles in Scream VI, in a successful attempt to revive and reinvigorate a failing franchise by adding a Latina dimension.

When she spoke out, Barrerra was immediately removed from the franchise and the Anglo actress Neve Campbell was called back in her place in a move that commercially had outlived its usefulness except as issuing a stern warning to those who would dissent on this issue. Despite her blacklisting, Barrera defined her steadfast support of the Palestinians in terms that called the settler colonial aspect of what is going on in Israel into question: “I find that Indigenous peoples around the world are always on the right side of history, point blank, period.”

Dennis Broe is the author of ‘The Dark Ages,’ the next Harry Palmer LA Mystery about the ‘return’ of HUAC to Hollywood.

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Dennis Broe
Dennis Broe

Dennis Broe, a film, television and art critic, is also the author of the Harry Palmer LA Mysteries, the latest volume of which, The House That Buff Built, is about the real estate industry, dispossession, and appropriation in the shaping of “modern” Los Angeles.