An Appeal to America’s College Protesters: Examine Your Own Captivity, the Seizure of Your Hearts and Minds

My hope is that students sincere in their goals of justice mark today’s seventh-month anniversary of 10/7 with a few moments to view the wrenching documentary Screams Before Silence. Meet and hear the victims and witnesses of the mass rape, mutilation, and murder on, and beyond, that day when the ghastly Hamas war began.

Brett A. Hurt
9 min readMay 7, 2024
An image I made on Midjourney when prompting for a mash-up of NYC and Jerusalem and shared widely following the horror of 10/7

Across America and now the world, we see young people marching, chanting, and sadly inciting violence in supposed confrontation of “tyranny”. So I have two questions for our students in this week that is more usually devoted to inspired speeches, eager graduates, and proud parents:

What about the tyranny within? Are you sure you know what you are actually fighting for?

Today is the seventh-month anniversary of the torture, rape, and murder by Hamas that sparked 10/7. Today is also just after Yom HaShoah, the annual remembrance of the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Today also sees your continuing and growing protests, and more feared cancellations of commencement ceremonies.

Exactly six months ago, on 11/7, I wrote about the perverse tyranny of a word, of “but” — this conjunction that invites false equivalence into our speech and thought. It struck a chord in the wake of the horror of 10/7 and the mass antisemitism — and silence — that followed and was my most shared article of 2023.

Six months later, however, I am writing of a different tyranny, and hoping to address those at the plywood ramparts on more than 100 campuses, with arrests at some 54 encampments, from Columbia to my own University of Texas at Austin. I have little doubt as fellow humanitarians that we share in the heartbreak for the misery of the Gazan civilians and the mounting death toll. I hope and pray that you also share in the agony of the hostages captured and hidden by Hamas somewhere in Gaza or rather, under Gaza, within their 300 miles of underground terror tunnels. I realize the specter of antisemitism, the vandalism, the outbreaks of campus violence, the cops in riot gear, and the students in balaclavas are sometimes exceptions to the more peaceful protests that we don’t see on the nightly news. So I want to appeal to your intellect and reason, as well as your avowed pursuit of justice.

I won’t ask you to break ranks or abandon your values, although I would love you to think deeply about what you are actually protesting. I won’t even speculate on the high-fives surely being traded around at the news yesterday that Columbia has canceled its commencement, alongside other prestigious schools. Enjoy your “victory” (I would be heartbroken as a graduating student or parent of one.) But I will ask that you break the cadence for a few moments to hold two thoughts at the same time. I ask that you consider two realities that have made you captive as well. Hear me out. Free speech, right?

The first is the absolute horror of the ghastliness of crimes against young women, girls, babies, and entire families. The history of Israel and its Arab neighbors is complex and fraught, as I detailed on 11/7. I deeply believe that justice demands a two-state solution for Palestine (without a terrorist organization ruling over it) and that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu is a disgrace (and doesn’t represent the best of Israel). But in no universe can the crimes of 10/7 be justified, normalized, or ignored — which so many of you so sadly are doing.

The second reality, enabling the first, is a virus of the mind. Together, they combine into a pathology ultimately more dangerous than the brutal and ongoing war itself — as with a forest fire creating its own wind to accelerate the flame.

Hear for Yourself the Horror Beyond Any Nightmare

Don’t listen to me, a Jew, a capitalist, and yes, a proud Zionist. Just watch the most heart-wrenching 60 minutes of video you may ever view.

Listen to Amit Soussana, a partygoer at the Nova Music Festival where this war began, where more than 1,200 were murdered and unspeakably tortured and raped on 10/7. Soussana was held for 54 days among the more than 200 hostages, 101 of whom are still in captivity and believed to still be alive. “I said to myself, I need to do this, I need to survive,” Sousanna shares in this devastating documentary, Screams Before Silence, produced by tech leader and philanthropist Sheryl Sandberg. “Then he forced me to commit a sexual act.”

Listen to Agam Goldstein-Almog: “They could wake you up in the middle of the night, and do it front of the other hostages,” she told Sandberg of the repeated rapes.

Listen to Tali Binner, who spent seven hours hiding in a trailer’s cupboard, listening to the repeated group rapes and murders of other young women: “When I hear screams and silence, and then a shot… you know someone else was killed.”

Listen to Simcha Greiniman, a volunteer medic — who has rushed to earthquakes, mudslides, and tsunamis around the world with the Israeli search and rescue NGO ZAKA — attempt to describe the dozens of naked women found dead, with unspeakable torture to their bodies: “I don’t have words to explain what we saw,” Grieniman recounts. “The bodies were cut to pieces. We couldn’t identify whether they were men or women.”

If you can summon the strength, view some of the pictures he took with his phone. Or listen to the film’s testaments from 17 released hostages, witnesses, first responders, and forensic pathologists. Or watch the police video, taken from a festival survivor, and that of captured terrorists, who in their own words describe the rapes and mutilations. Or watch the photos of the carnage taken by their terrorists themselves with GoPro cameras.

Never Let This Happen Again

I won’t go on about this brave documentary. It’s devastating. But you must watch it on your next break from protest — you owe that to yourself and their memory if you are so sure that your cause is so just. Perhaps you will take heart from Sandberg’s closing remarks: “Anyone who watches this film can bear witness, and we can take that pain and take that trauma, and turn it into hope, turn it into commitment, turn it into conviction that we are not going to let this happen again.”

If you believe this must never happen again, understand that Hamas is not the liberator as so many of you seem to believe. There is a reason so many Palestinians despise Hamas for its theft of aid, its long mistreatment of women, its execution of LBGT people, its leaders’ luxury lives abroad, and its use of human shields to increase — not stop — the civilian deaths that are the main currency of its propaganda. Free Palestine? Absolutely. Free Palestine from Hamas!

If you believe we can turn pain into commitment and conviction please listen to Gaza-born Palestinian Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib, who has lost more than 30 family members in the war. He recently visited the protest site at UCLA, where he describes the swastika entwined with the Star of David adjacent to the entrance to the encampment.

“There was no room or space for meaningful discussions, engagement, and exploring the building of a sustainable, broad movement with realistic and articulable goals, strategies, tactics, and sophisticated messaging.” Alkhatib wrote on X. “It was clear that a small group of students and organizations developed their platform, and subsequently, the masses are being herded into following it, seemingly mindlessly and without a deep understanding of Gaza, Hamas, Israel, foreign policy, and all the relevant issues.”

Don’t take it from me, or even from Alkhatib, about students as masses “being herded”. Allow yourself a moment of critical thinking, of questioning, of reflection on what the mission of your university education is supposed to be about. Read this post from Jonathan Haidt, a professor at New York University who wrote last December, Why Antisemitism Sprouted So Quickly on Campus, on how a decade or more of politically correct indoctrination set the stage for simplistic “oppressor versus oppressed” mindsets. Better yet, read his bestselling 2018 book written with free speech advocate Greg Lukianoff, The Coddling of The American Mind. It describes the cancel culture so prevalent on campuses that is certainly driving the ugliness in many protests. “In tribal mode, we seem to go blind to arguments and information that challenge our team’s narrative,” they write in this profound book on the pathology I describe at the outset.

Pay just a moment of heed to Scott Galloway, an entrepreneur and business professor at New York University, an outstanding advocate for students, free speech, and an outspoken opponent of racism and discrimination in any form: “The conflict in Gaza has reverberated throughout U.S. higher education, catching many flat-footed despite predictions that there would be disruption in academia and that DEI would begin eating its tail and turn racist.”

Yes, DEI, for “diversity, equity and inclusion”. I devoted the conclusion of my own book, The Entrepreneur’s Essentials to the importance of the basic goals of diversity (representing what I called “the best of America”), the need to acknowledge and not look away from our country’s history, and the opportunity for businesses like ours at to lead by example. But today my work is not the point.

Then and Now — Protests for Symbolism, Not Change

Once more, don’t take it from me that these protests have become performative — a strange source of community for students, but totally counterproductive to any aspiration of nationhood for the Palestinians. Take a moment to read Columbia University’s John McWhorter, a professor of linguistics, on how these protests are making the same mistakes as those of the late civil rights movement of the 1960s, as it transformed from the goals of changing laws and institutions to symbolic confrontation. None other than Dr. Martin Luther King himself saw the danger. McWhorter quotes historian Taylor Branch, who describes King’s regard of the shift to symbolism as, “expressions of rivalry and rage, without constructive purpose”.

Or hear this perspective from Marc Rowan, CEO of Apollo Global and one of the first to speak about antisemitism, vandalism, and the failure of university leaders: “We’ve been catering to a small group of people who hold extremist views,” he told Yahoo News. “They are entitled to those extremist views. What they are not entitled to is to impose those views on the rest.”

However loud your voices might become for an imagined history of the Middle East, just take a few moments for those confronting the very real history and the clairvoyant reality that seven million Jews and seven million Palestians are not going anywhere.

Listen to this conversation from last month’s TED2024 in Vancouver between Palestinian peacemaker Aziz Abu Sarah and Israeli peacemaker Maoz Inon. TED thought this was so important that they opened the conference with it. Abu Sarah and Inon disagree on much, but wholeheartedly agree that we must choose reconciliation. “I think of anger like I think of nuclear power, that it can create destruction and it can create light,” Abu Sarah said, in their conversation, which was also the first to be posted by TED online following the conference. “And my hope is that we continue to use anger, as a way to bring people together, to ask ourselves, ‘What can I do to make things better?’“

One who is definitely trying to make things better is my friend, entrepreneur, and fellow Austinite, Daniel Lubetzky. Daniel is the founder of KIND Snacks and also an investor on the infamous TV show Shark Tank. We both attended TED this year, and his description of his decades of work to forge links of cooperation between Jews, Muslims, Palestinians, and Israelis prompted tears and a standing ovation.

Daniel’s TED talk is not yet online, but I will update this plea with the link when it is. As a child of Holocaust survivors, who grew up in Mexico City, he’s an immigrant to the United States who has devoted decades to peace-building. Initially he founded the PeaceWorks Foundation’s OneVoice Movement in 2002, with 2,000 youth leaders in every Israeli and Palestinian university.

His latest project is BUILDERS, including Builders of the Middle East, which he described in his TED talk. Just days after 10/7, Daniel described its vision in this brief and moving call for Palestinian and Israeli unity that I wish could run on every smartphone on every college campus globally.

“If builders do not step up, destroyers will step in,” Daniel told us at TED. “When society is falling apart, the only way out is for all of us to build together.”

At this commencement moment, on the seventh month anniversary of the horror of 10/7 that started this all, please give some thought to what happened on that festival ground, of the brutality, the evil, and the tyranny of terror. And yes, give just a moment of thought to the tyranny of the mind, and a distinct kind of captivity on American college campuses. You owe it to yourself, your parents, your classmates, your university, and your community for all of that money and time being spent on your education. Think for a moment how you are going to feel 20 years from now as you look back on your actions today.

“Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — Winston Churchill



Brett A. Hurt

CEO and Co-founder,; Co-owner, Hurt Family Investments; Founder, Bazaarvoice and Coremetrics; Henry Crown Fellow; TEDster; Dad + Husband