update deskSchools & Higher Education

Activists gag Jewish congressman’s talk in school series honoring Holocaust survivors

Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, delivered the 2024 Irving and Renee Milchberg Endowed Lecture at University of Maryland.

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) was supposed to deliver a lecture—in a series named for Holocaust survivors—about contemporary threats to reason.

Anti-Israel activists took that as a reason to badger the Jewish congressman so thoroughly on March 28 that he scrapped his speech and instead took questions from the crowd before Darryll Pines—the president of the University of Maryland, College Park—ended the event prematurely.

“It’s very tough to solve problems in the Middle East here at the University of Maryland in the physics department,” Raskin told the audience, per Capital News Service.

Raskin was delivering the Maryland public university’s Irving and Renee Milchberg Endowed Lecture that honors the late parents of Howard Milchberg, a physics and electrical computer engineering professor at the school.

His parents, Holocaust survivors, “were witnesses to and victims of what can happen to society when ideology and lies are accepted in lieu of facts,” the university states. “Howard’s own decision to study physics was motivated by a compelling need for clarity and truth, which grew out of his parents’ experiences.”

University of Maryland
A stairway on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, Md.. Credit: Bgervais via Wikimedia Commons.

Raskin had begun speaking on “Democracy, Autocracy and the Threat to Reason in the 21st Century” last Thursday at 1 p.m. at the university, but protesters interrupted him “just a few minutes” after he started talking, per the Capital News Service. The outlet stated that the event instead became “a lively discussion on the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.”

When the protesters accused Raskin of being complicit in genocide, he said he wished that they had opted to engage in dialogue rather than “heckling,” CNS reported.

One student protester told the Diamondback, the university’s student publication, that Raskin “has made lip service as far as we can tell towards the people of Palestine while continuing to support the funding towards the Israeli government.”

“We didn’t think that was very nice as far as democracy is concerned,” the student, Raphi Rose, told the publication.

“University president Darryll Pines and Raskin made multiple calls for civil dialogue as protesters interrupted the lecture,” according to the Diamondback. “‘The only uncivil thing here is you standing and talking while children are dying and being murdered,’ one protester said.”

“Raskin emphasized that he has taken a strong position on returning the hostages held by Hamas, has advocated a military ceasefire and has championed a two-state solution,” CNS added. “As he attempted to continue his lecture, protesters continued interrupting and shouting. Various protesters questioned Raskin’s actions since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.”

“We need a new peace movement, too, if you are the representatives of it,” the congressman told the protesters reportedly. “Because you’re not engaging in real dialogue with people, and you’re not convincing anybody.”

Raskin told CNS that he’s “not really opposed to heckling,” but “it seems like heckling today is all about drowning out the speaker, and that’s totally antithetical to the spirit of free expression.”

The college’s president and the professor, who started the speaker series with his wife and three children in 2019 with a $100,000 gift, told CNS that the speech turned out well in the end.

“He came here to speak about where our democracy is going in our country,” Pines, the college president, told the publication. “What you saw play out actually was democracy and free speech and academic freedom. From our perspective as a university, there are the difficult conversations that we should be having.”

Howard Milchberg, the professor, told CNS that the speech “didn’t go as planned, but it maybe turned out better than normal.”

“It was an actual exercise of democracy rather than a story about democracy,” he said.

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