One university’s three-part solution to anti-Israel protesters

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As campus protests continue, one university’s three-part solution is working

May 6, 2024 -

University of Florida campus has not displaced anti-Israel protesters. By Katherine Welles/stock.adobe.com

University of Florida campus has not displaced anti-Israel protesters. By Katherine Welles/stock.adobe.com

University of Florida campus has not displaced anti-Israel protesters. By Katherine Welles/stock.adobe.com

While many over the weekend were focused on Mystik Dan’s longshot photo finish victory at the Kentucky Derby, protesters clashed with police at the University of Virginia and disrupted graduation ceremonies across the country. More than 2,100 anti-Israel protesters have been arrested so far.

We now know that activist groups were training students for months before campus protests began. Many are not just anti-Israel but anti-America as well. At a New York City rally, for example, one protester said Osama bin Laden “did what he did because he had to do it.” Others burned the American flag.

Wall Street Journal columnist Walter Russell Mead summarized the activists’ beliefs:

Many of Hamas’ most passionate campus supporters believe that the organization wants to establish a secular Palestinian state. They also believe that Israeli Jews are European immigrants displacing an indigenous population—white settlers who should go home to Poland. . . . They see Hamas as part of a global coalition of “progressive” movements advancing causes such as climate change, democracy, and LGBTQ rights against global capitalism.

Not one of the beliefs you just read is true.

What is the best way to respond to a movement based on such delusions?

“Minds are changed by reason, not force”

There have been no protester disruptions at the University of Florida, despite its elite status and Wall Street Journal ranking it as the No. 1 public university in the country. President Ben Sasse explained his school’s three-part approach to the protest movement:

  1. “Universities must distinguish between speech and action.” He calls speech “central to education” but draws “a hard line at unlawful action. Speech isn’t violence. Silence isn’t violence. Violence is violence.”
  2. “Universities must say what they mean and then do what they say.” At his university, this means they will always defend protesters’ rights to free speech and free assembly, but “if you cross the line on clearly prohibited activities, you will be thrown off campus and suspended.” In their case, this is a three-year prohibition from campus.
  3. “Universities need to recommit themselves to real education.” He notes that “teachers ought to be ushering students into the world of argument and persuasion. Minds are changed by reason, not force. Progress depends on those who do the soulful, patient work of inspiring intellects.”

Those of us who follow Dr. Sasse’s career are not surprised by the clarity of his leadership. He is brilliant, having studied at Oxford and earned degrees from Harvard and Yale. But more importantly, he is a committed Christian whose worldview is consistently biblical.

How can those of us who share his beliefs make a transformational impact on our broken culture?

What I am tempted to believe

In his bestselling Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal, Dr. Sasse distinguishes between coherence and correspondence theories of truth. The latter seeks to align with what is objectively true in the external world; the former seeks to align with what we already believe to be true.

Here’s the problem: citing Thomas Kuhn’s seminal work, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Dr. Sasse writes that “we usually yearn for internal coherence far more strongly than we yearn for external correspondence with reality.” This fact applies to anti-Israel protesters whose beliefs, as we noted earlier, have no such “correspondence with reality” but are coherent with their peers and what they’ve been taught.

As a result, these activists are unlikely to listen to reasoning from those whose opinions they do not already embrace. In their binary world of oppressors and oppressed, if you do not agree with them, you’re part of the problem and stand on the “wrong side of history.”

My point, however, is not that anti-Israel protesters need to choose beliefs that correspond with reality: it’s that I do.

I cannot ask secularized skeptics to choose biblical truth over non-Christian deceptions unless I do what I want them to do. And I am as tempted as anyone to believe what coheres with what I want to believe rather than to accept truths that correspond to reality but challenge my biases.

What is the way forward?

“We’re to focus on wanting what God wants”

During research for this article, I was intrigued to learn that the University of Florida’s seal states, “In God We Trust,” while its motto in English reads, “The welfare of the state depends upon the morals of its citizens.”

The key is to base the latter on the former.

Our  “morals” as fallen humans can be truly transformed only to the degree that we trust in the God who alone can change human hearts. When we submit every day to his Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) and ask him to make us more like our Savior (Romans 8:29), we then “shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2:15–16).

According to Ben Sasse,

We’re to focus on wanting what God wants—may his name be hallowed, not mine; his will be advanced, not mine.

Whose will are you advancing today?

Monday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” —St. Augustine

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