According to video obtained by the Haym Salomon Center, approximately a dozen anti-Israel protestors stormed Clark Hall Thursday night on the University of Virginia campus, attempting to shut down an event featuring Reservists on Duty (ROD), an education group of Israel Defense Forces reservists.
Hosted by the Brody Jewish Center - Hillel at UVA, the group's Facebook page described the event as intended “to share their personal stories and answer tough questions from the university community. The idea behind the panel was to humanize the conflict, learn about Israeli society, and allow for honest conversation.”
The panel of IDF reservists, two men and two women, had barely begun their introductory remarks when the disruption broke out.
“We were so excited to get this panel started," explained ROD volunteer Asher Stern. “There were people in the crowd that wanted to learn, and some who already held dissenting opinions. But they were there to listen and dialogue.”
Clearly not interested in a conversation were the protestors. With megaphones, signs and flags, the anti-Israel activists stormed the room, chanting slogans such as “long live the intifada.”
“I focus on their support for intifada because I know what intifada means — terror and death to anyone who doesn’t support them. This was really shocking to me, hearing somebody publicly support terror in this way,” said Stern. “We tried to get a word in and invited them to stay and talk, put down the megaphones, show us their faces and actually talk to us.”
ROD volunteer Uriya Rosenman told the Haym Salomon Center that this was “an emotional experience":
A group of 10 to 15 people I’ve never met storm the room, screaming at me the most horrible stuff I’ve ever heard in my life. This brought up a lot of emotions that made me want to defend myself. But at the same time, I thought of these 30 to 40 students in front of me — looking at me and wanting to hear my story. I knew that the most important thing for me to do was to stay focused on telling my story, to educate the people who came to hear us.
Video footage confirms that ROD invited the protestors to dialogue with them. “No dialogue with racists” was the response.
When it became clear that event organizers had called the police, the protestors filed out, chanting their anti-Israel slogans as they left the room. Often, when pro-Israel events are overrun by protestors, a security mindset takes over and the program is canceled. That wasn’t the case Thursday evening.
“What I found so amazing and made me so proud of the people at the university, is that after this massive interruption, our panel discussion continued and the conversation resumed,” explained Stern.
Stern added, “The people asking us the questions didn’t necessarily agree with our point of view. They were there to listen and have a dialogue, which was the point of the panel. Despite the disruption, we made progress with people who wanted to have a conversation.”
Rabbi Jake Rubin, Executive Director of the UVA Hillel, received praise from ROD for his leadership during the disruption. In a Facebook statement, Rubin wrote:
While free speech and the ability to protest are important aspects of college life, we are disappointed that protesters refused to engage in conversation and instead continued to shout intimidating and hostile slurs directed at students, staff, and panelists. UVA is and has always been a place for the free exchange of ideas, learning from opposing views, and open dialogue.
Expressing his appreciation for “the strong response we have seen from the University and Student Council,” Rabbi Rubin added, “Their messages have affirmed our students’ right to gather and engage in educational programming in a safe environment, and our university’s value of engaging with one another in productive dialogue.”
No student group has taken responsibility for Thursday evening’s protest.
Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on twitter @pauliespoint.