June 17, 2024 | Kyiv Post

Chinese and Russian Influence Operations Threaten Safety of Jewish and Ukrainian Students

Russia, China, and Iran are waging information wars against Western countries, particularly at universities, and it’s Ukrainian and Jewish students who are paying the price.
June 17, 2024 | Kyiv Post

Chinese and Russian Influence Operations Threaten Safety of Jewish and Ukrainian Students

Russia, China, and Iran are waging information wars against Western countries, particularly at universities, and it’s Ukrainian and Jewish students who are paying the price.

The 2024 spring semester on US college campuses was anything but typical for students across the country. Anti-Israel protests and unabashed acts of anti-Semitism have swept across campuses, disrupting final exams and even graduation ceremonies. Jewish students have been denied access to parts of campus and outrageously labeled as Nazis for their support of Israel.

Ukrainian students have faced similar challenges. At the University of Connecticut, the Ukrainian Student Association has been targeted for its support of Ukraine. Their ribbons and posters have been destroyed and replaced by pro-Russia propaganda. Like their Jewish peers, Ukrainians on campuses across the country have also been smeared with Nazi comparisons. Canadian students are also facing similar hostility.

Recent investigations reveal that these actions are far from organic demonstrations led by misinformed students. To the contrary, they are fueled by today’s Axis of Evil: RussiaChina, and Iran, and the lies they propagate. From developing the false narratives to disseminating them widely, these rogue states are using our open information ecosystem against us.

The Washington Post revealed that Russia and Iran are behind the funding of Grayzone, an online news site that targets American audiences with a steady stream of anti-Israel, anti-Ukraine, and anti-US propaganda. Grayzone, which has hundreds of thousands of followers, has peddled disinformation denying Hamas’ use of sexual violence on Oct. 7 and claiming that Russia’s bombing of a Mariupol theater was a false flag attack and claiming that the Maidan Revolution was a US-led coup. Narratives that have been echoed on college campuses.

Beyond creating these narratives, foreign actors have also been found responsible for broadly circulating them and funding campus unrest. A new investigation by the Network Contagion Research Institute reveals that the recent anti-Israel protest movement is linked to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), aiming to deepen divisions within American society and destabilize its institutions. Exploiting the American constitutional right to freedom of expression, which the CCP denies its own citizens, has fueled unrest on US college campuses.

Moscow has also targeted campus protests through the Kremlin-linked network Doppelganger, claiming that protests “are financed by the Rockefeller and Soros foundations” and using Telegram channels to promote narratives about US hypocrisy related to “freedom to protest.”

Students have become pawns in Beijing, Moscow and Tehran’s grand strategy, bearing the brunt of these information warfare operations that seek to distract the West from Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine and sow division in the US.

Educational institutions must provide robust support systems for students targeted by these campaigns. Jewish and Ukrainian students, and indeed all students, should feel safe and supported on their campuses. Unfortunately, many universities have failed their fundamental duty to ensure a safe learning environment for all students, instead capitulating to their demands. The concessions range from agreeing to not punish any of the protestors who engaged in unauthorized activity to advancing university-wide policies to divest from Israel. In short, these protestors have been awarded for violating university policies and intimidating Jewish students. These university leaders are only encouraging future atrocious behavior and emboldening our foreign adversaries who have fueled these campaigns.

Washington must also intensify efforts to expose and counter foreign information operations. Students, faculty, and the public need to be informed about the true origins of these protests and the broader geopolitical motives behind them. Only by understanding the full scope of the threat can we effectively counter it.

Fortunately, Congress has begun addressing this threat, launching an investigation into foreign funding of the organizations that have spearheaded the wanton hate displayed on campuses nationwide. The Biden administration must take similar steps to safeguard our campuses from foreign influence.

Yurij Wowczuk is director of the Vovk Foundation. Dr. Ivana Stradner serves as a research fellow with the Barish Center for Media Integrity at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Issues:

China Disinformation Iran Israel Russia Ukraine