Students stage protest during speaking event with Israeli Defense Forces reservist
Nearly half the audience in a packed Kreeger Auditorium rose in protest of an Israeli air force sergeant Nov. 28, disrupting an event organizers said they hoped would create dialogue and “a more pro-Israel campus.”
Sgt. Benjamin Anthony, a reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces, spoke about Israel’s need to defend itself and the realities of serving in a civilian military. Israel deserves to exist not for its democracy or technology, but because it is the homeland of the Jewish people, he told around 100 members of the AU community.
Shortly after the event began, about 50 audience members stood and lifted signs with anti-Israel slogans, many reading “AU condemns war crimes.” Several Public Safety officers in the auditorium immediately told the group to leave.
“It’s inappropriate that [Anthony] is being brought here as a speaker,” AU Students for Justice in Palestine member Damián Fontanez, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, said. “He, as well as the state of Israel, should be held accountable for what they do to the Palestinian people … [Protesting] shows we won’t be complicit in that.”
Most protesters were members of SJP and AU Jewish Voice for Peace, JVP co-founder Ibraheem Samirah, a senior in the School of Public Affairs, said.
The Israeli military acts to protect its citizens regardless of their race or religion, Anthony said, adding his service has proven that “Palestinian,” “Arab” and “Muslim” are not synonyms for “terrorist.”
While Anthony defended what he believes to be legitimate military actions in the Palestinian Territories, the protesters rallied for more than 30 minutes outside Kreeger against what they see as illegal occupation and human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“It’s not a contradiction to mobilize your troops to bring security to your borders, it’s not,” Anthony said. “How long are our people expected to tolerate rocket fire without moving forward to silence it?”
The event was co-sponsored by Christians United for Israel, AU Students for Israel and AU’s pro-Israel political advocacy group AmeriPAC.
Anthony was raised in the United Kingdom and enlisted in the IDF before becoming a permanent Israeli citizen in 2004. He is the founder of Our Soldiers Speak, a nonprofit that gives lectures and seminars on current Israeli conflicts and military campaigns.