tudents at Columbia University pulled off a stunt that not even I could resist chuckling at: a peaceful walkout during a class taught by none other than the former secretary of state and the woman who once had the nuclear codes just within reach, Hillary Clinton. This wasn’t just your average “I’m bored” yawn-and-leave scenario. No, this had all the drama of a Middle Eastern soap opera minus the overused sound effects.

So here's the juice: About 30 students apparently decided that their Global Affairs class needed a bit of, let's say, global affairs reality check. Halfway through Clinton’s lecture, they got up and sauntered out. What sparked this academic rebellion? Their beef is with the university’s alleged role in the public shaming of pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Ah, the Middle East conflict, the gift that keeps on giving drama.

Last week, some students had their faces plastered across video screens on trucks parked by the campus, with labels branding them as "Columbia’s biggest antisemites." The images were apparently swiped from a “secure and private” student portal. Now, I’m from a region where government surveillance is a hobby, but this is America, folks. Aren't we supposed to pretend that privacy exists?

The protesting students, displaying an appetite for justice that would make a Hollywood scriptwriter proud, joined others in the lobby demanding legal support and a commitment to their safety. It’s like they wanted to remind everyone that, yes, privacy and respect are still in vogue.

Hillary, being the pro that she is, carried on without skipping a beat. After all, if you can handle a Benghazi hearing, what's a small student walkout? The school’s dean, Keren Yarhi-Milo, handled the aftermath, expressing support for the students. It's always heartwarming to see school officials play nice with the kids.

But let’s cut through the noise: This is a bigger deal than it seems. On the surface, it’s about students protesting against their university. Look a little deeper, and it’s about the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict washing up on the shores of academia.

The timing of this is as impeccable as the graphics on those video trucks: Clinton, who’s as pro-Israel as they come, was discussing foreign policy. Some might say, "But Bassem, she's just teaching a class." True, but when you're Hillary Clinton, everything you do or say is as political as my grandmother's recipe for molokhia.

So what can we learn from this? When it comes to the Middle East, everyone’s got an opinion, and they’re not afraid to park it on your front lawn. Columbia’s students have shown us that they can be as fierce with their peaceful protests as Middle Easterners are with their Twitter hashtags. The only difference is that here, you get a walkout, whereas back home, you’d get a... let’s not go there.

In the end, Columbia University is setting up a taskforce to counter doxxing - you know, the not-so-fun game of “let’s share your personal info with the world.” And as for the students, they’ve just given a new meaning to “taking a stand” in class.

Ah, academia, where the battle for hearts and minds sometimes involves actual battles - or at least very dramatic walkouts.


Nov 3, 2023
World Affairs

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