(February 25, 2019 / JNS) The University of Texas at Austin chapter of the anti-Israel group IfNotNow blocked the entrance of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the school on Saturday and protested a former Israel Defense Forces’ soldier who was scheduled to speak there.
The campus Chabad center organized a Shabbat lunch and invited former Israeli soldier Leibel Mangel to speak about “his life experiences about ethics in combat,” said Rabbi Zev Johnson in an online post about the incident. Mangel served as a machine gunner in the Kfir Brigade, where he took part in high profile anti-terror operations.
“My presence on campus at University of Texas Austin and Shabbat morning services at Chabad were protested and disrupted by IfNotNow,” posted Mangel on Facebook. “An organization that claims to represent Jewish values found nothing wrong with disturbing Jews who wanted to pray on Shabbat.”
“In addition, they found it appropriate to engage with young children—children who couldn’t understand why fellow Jews would have a problem with them,” he continued.
Johnson’s 4-year-old daughter saw the protesters and asked her father, as recalled by Johnson, “What are those people doing outside? They just asked me to leave Chabad and come sing with them Daddy.”
The IfNotNow chapter said on Facebook that Mangel was using the trauma from the Holocaust “to justify the oppression of Palestinian people.”
Mangel, however, happens to know quite a bit about the Holocaust. He is the son of a Chabad rabbi and the grandson of Nissim Mangel, who was just 10 years old when he entered Auschwitz. He ultimately survived the Nazi selections and final death march before being liberated in 1945.
The elder Mangel, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., speaks often to student and adult audiences at universities throughout North America about his experiences in multiple concentration camps.
In the end, Mangel gave his speech as scheduled.
“They did not stick around to hear my speech and engage in debate or discussion,” Mangel told JNS. “My presence alone was enough.”