Gates says campus protesters “don’t know much of that history” in Middle East

Washington — Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said a lot of the young people protesting the Israel-Hamas war on college campuses “don’t know much of that history” of the region as American universities in recent weeks have become the center of opposition to the war’s toll on Palestinians in Gaza. 

“What has gone on, transpired between Israel and the Palestinians going back decades is very complex, very difficult,” Gates said on “Face the Nation.” “And I think a lot of the young demonstrators don’t know much of that history.”

As protests at college campuses have cropped up throughout the country in recent weeks, some of which have featured antisemitic rhetoric that has prompted concerns about the safety of Jewish students on campuses, Gates said universities — balancing free speech considerations with the protections of all students — have enforced their rules regarding demonstrations inconsistently.

“So I think where you’ve seen success in managing the protests and where the protests have not been disruptive, even though the students are making their points, are in those universities where the rules have been consistently applied and consistently enforced,” he said. 

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates on “Face the Nation,” May 19, 2024. CBS News

On the dynamics in the region more broadly and their implications for American security, Gates, who served as the Secretary of Defense between 2006 and 2011 under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, noted that there are four wars going on in the Middle East at present. He pointed to the war in Gaza, between Israel and Hezbollah, the Houthis in Yemen and militias in Syria and Iraq, saying Iran is the “one power behind all four of these conflicts.”

“We become so preoccupied with Gaza, what we’ve failed to talk sufficiently about is how do we deal with an Iran that is basically the one providing the arms, the planning and the intelligence in all four of these conflicts, and that Iran is the source of the problem,” Gates said. “How do we deal with that? That’s the real issue, it seems to me that’s being missed.”

Meanwhile, Gates said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has “essentially ignored” U.S. views and requests, including related to humanitarian aid, as the war in Gaza goes on. Referring to President Biden’s recent decision to withhold some specific armaments to Israel, Gates said that “when our allies ignore us, and particularly on issues that are of huge importance to us and to the region, then I think it’s reasonable to take actions that try to get their attention.”

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