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Groups vow to promote ‘voices of Israel’ after protester disrupts Arab Israelis on campus

Representatives of pro-Israel group Reservists on Duty (RoD). Credit: RoD
Representatives of pro-Israel group Reservists on Duty (RoD). Credit: RoD

In the latest college campus controversy involving Israel’s minority populations, police at the University of Minnesota arrested an unidentified woman Oct. 24 for disrupting a pro-Israel student group’s event featuring Arab Israelis who served in the IDF.

Video footage obtained by the Haym Salomon Center shows a young hijab-clad woman walking up and down the aisle of a conference room, slinging personalized verbal assaults at the guest speakers, all members of Reservists on Duty (RoD), an organization founded by Israeli reserve combat soldiers and officers “who felt it was their duty to expose and counter BDS” on American college campuses. RoD was hosted on the campus by Students Supporting Israel (SSI), an international campus movement that focuses on Israel advocacy.

The incident in Minnesota came about a week after both Hillel and a student-run Israel engagement group pulled their support for an RoD event spotlighting the stories of Israeli minorities at California-based Stanford University. Stanford Chabad ultimately hosted the event.

In this week’s incident, the unidentified woman, reading from prepared notes on her smartphone, began by attacking Jonathan Elkhoury, a gay Christian who immigrated to Israel in 2000 after his family escaped war-torn Lebanon. According to the protester, “Jonathan’s cowardly rat of a father is a former officer in the South Lebanon Army (SLA).” Describing the SLA as a “genocidal pack of rats,” she continued to attack Elkhoury’s family and his Christian-Lebanese pride.

Arab-Israeli Muslim Dema Taya was next on the protester’s list of targets. Her questioning of Taya’s background drew laughter from the crowd as well as the RoD speakers. At that point, two minutes into the protest, requests for security could be heard on the video.

“The personal accusations made by this anti-Israel activist prove once again how those who despise the Jewish state fear Muslim, Arab and LGBTQ speakers who speak the truth about Israel, the only democratic state in the Middle East,” said SSI President Ilan Sinelnikov. “SSI and RoD will continue working together in order to promote the voices of Israel on campus, be they Jews, Muslim, Christians, Druze or any other Israeli citizen.”

Elkhoury calmly asked the protester, throughout her diatribe, to stop and allow them to get on with their event. His words were ignored, and the protester continued reading her prepared statements, stopping only when she lost her place or when remarks from the crowd distracted her reading.

The unidentified woman’s speech escalated into a tirade when she called a Muslim Israeli-Bedouin reservist a “war criminal.” He responded, repeatedly declaring, “Israel is my homeland.  I’m a proud Israeli soldier.”

During her arrest outside the conference room, the protester accused police officers of being white supremacists.

“She is a Muslim who came to our event, not to shut down white Jewish speakers, but rather to shut down Muslims, Christians and Arabs who actually live in Israel,” explained Amit Deri, founder of RoD. “She called herself a Palestinian, but she was born and raised in Minnesota. She had the nerve to tell our group of Muslims that they are traitors. They told her, ‘You don’t know; you don’t live in Israel! You left your so-called land, you live here in the states and you want to tell us what it’s like living in Israel?’ This was an interesting situation for the students to watch.”

Deri added that RoD and SSI will be pressing charges. He said the groups want to send a message to anti-Israel protesters that free speech is a two-way street, and that they have a right to hold events without fear of disruption or personal harm.

In May, at University of California, Irvine, IDF reservists speaking on behalf of RoD had to be escorted out by police following a violent protest by anti-Israel students. The Jewish, Christian and Muslim IDF delegation was on campus to counter “Israeli Apartheid Week” events at the university.

The protest was documented on video by smartphone cameras, ultimately leading to the anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine being placed on disciplinary probation for two academic years.

The RoD event in Minnesota was part of a two-week speaking tour at colleges and communities across the U.S., covering 12 cities. The tour concluded Oct. 26 at Columbia University.

Paul Miller is president and executive director of the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him on Twitter: @pauliespoint.

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