One week ago I shared the human side of the conflict in southern Israel and told my personal stories from Sderot in a presentation at Depaul University in Chicago sponsored by StandWithUs, Hillel, and the university’s Political Science department. As a representative of Sderot Media Center, I traveled from Israel to explain the daily reality of rocket fire that has been plaguing the country for the past eight years. Still one week after I told personal stories of having 15 seconds to run for my life, because of the overshadowing anti-Semitic harassment and disruption caused by pro-Hamas student and non-student organizations my message of understanding and empathy for the people of southern Israel has not yet permeated peoples’ minds.
Hate Speech on University Campuses from StandWithUs
I wasn’t 30 hours off the plane from Israel before I was greeted with more direct anti-Semitism than Qassam rockets fired at Sderot. Several anti-Israel posters draped the entrance to the building in which I was to tell my personal stories. I began my presentation with a small audience of around 20 people and as my presentation went on the room began filling with people not merely against Israel’s political policies and action but people in clear support of the terrorist organization Hamas.
Protest signs at DePaul University in Chicago set up during the SMC presentation.
Photo: Jacob Shrybman
When I welcomed the custom of a question and answer period following my presentation the very right of free speech that I welcomed to the audience of now over 100 people was thrown in my face and denied to me. To start the question and answer period, an audience member verbally attacked me, stated his support for the firing of rockets into Israel, and ended his anti-Semitic rhetoric filled rant with a question irrelevant to anything in my presentation. I then pointed out to the audience the same fact I want to point out in this article, that this person was not simply criticizing Israel but was clearly expressing his support for the terrorist organization Hamas. Before I could finish answering the question that was underneath all the threatening hate filled propaganda in this audience member’s statement I was interrupted and silenced by the overwhelming Hamas supporters. Next another audience member rose up in the front of the room and screamed out calling me a “dirty whore” in Arabic and proceeded to grab his crotch and scream “Here’s your Qassam!” in Arabic.
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Free Speech Dies at DePaul University – Brett Cohen
On March 16th, I attended a DePaul University event that I helped to organize, which was meant to bring greater understanding about the recent Hamas-Israel War in Gaza to the campus. – Read more
My free speech was denied, I was not able to utter a word and the event was shut down. As I was collecting my belongings amidst the continuing anti-Semitic harassment a small minority of audience members that were interested by my presentation approached me and expressed their resentment for the interruption and their fear to speak out. The local police teamed with university security had to then escort me to my car several blocks down the street. The unceasing preaching of common anti-Semitic rhetoric, personal harassment, and clear signs of solidarity with a terrorist organization successfully hijacked the event.
As I was there to tell the human side of this daily reality of rockets, these Hamas supporters laughed at raw footage of kindergarten children running for shelter as a Qassam rocket was fired at their city. If it wasn’t clear before it was clear to me then that these people were not there to learn about this reality, or gain understanding of the trauma and suffering in southern Israel, or even object to any of my presentation of personal stories. These people were there for the sole reason that it was an event regarding the Jewish State of Israel to whose existence they visibly objected. How was I even to proceed with promoting human understanding if the unruly crowd didn’t even recognize my basic right as a Jew to live in Israel?
Photo: Jacob Shrybman
This past week I have answered email after email, phone call after phone call from everyone ranging from people at the event, to the event organizers, to reporters and journalists, to heads of major organizations. It is saddening that not one of the emails or phone calls has been regarding the fact that more than 3 out 4 children in Sderot have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or that now 1 million Israelis live under the daily threat of rockets. No one remembers the story I told of the baby in the stroller gasping while pointing to the sky as the Color Red alarm sounded in downtown Sderot. My message that I brought from Israel was lost. For the past eight years the rockets fired into southern Israel have been acceptable in the eyes of the world. It is more saddening that the longer this anti-Semitic harassment and overwhelming hate filled propaganda is commonplace in cities and college campuses across the globe, the more the targeting of innocent Israelis by terrorist rocket fire is acceptable.
I shuddered when I read this. Thankfully, on my own campus, it is not so bad that I fear to speak out. But the hatred and intolerance is present all the same. It is a sad day for America when one cannot speak out freely from fear of being lynched by a hate-crazed mob.