MU Christians United For Israel hosted a pro-Israel presentation event which brought Missouri state Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles and two Israeli soldiers to Columbia, as well as student protesters.
The student protestors did not interrupt the main event, waiting until the Q&A session to speak their minds.
Members of the protest brought up concerns about the decision to host the event on Sept. 11, to which event staff replied by stating that the date was not intentional. They said it was the only day that the event could be held, as the two soldiers had only landed in the U.S. the day prior and were visiting other campuses.
Another concern was the language used in the flyers placed around campus to advertise the event, with some accusing them of being racist and Islamophobic.
"I was upset just reading the posters knowing that this event is happening on 9/11,” said Sumayyah Firozi. “As a Muslim student, just seeing from far away bright neon posters saying '9/11, terrorist' and then connecting it to Israel and then basically insinuating that Muslims are connected to that. So just looking at that I felt violated as a student."
Since even before its creation in 1948, the modern state of Israel has been at odds with its neighbors and the previous majority inhabitants of its land: Palestinians. Several wars have been fought over the issue, and a peaceful solution seems to elude society to this day.
Efforts have been made on all sides to quell the heated debates and violence that spawn from the topic, which was the stated purpose of this event. "The main purpose of this event here is to humanize soldiers in Israel . . . That's all it is, to share the stories of these two individuals,” said Nadav Alkoby, Midwest region campus coordinator for the Zionist Organization of America and one of the sponsors of the event.
“It's not here to fight [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement], it's not here to create any hatred, it's just two people's stories. Hopefully, these stories will connect with students." Alkoby said.
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement "works to end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law," according to their website.
The event began with an opening speech by Missouri state Sen. Bob Onder, R-St. Charles.
"I believe I was asked to speak here this evening because I was the sponsor of Senate Bill 308," Onder said in his speech.
Senate Bill 308, officially titled the "Anti-Discrimination Against Israel Act" was introduced on Jan. 28, 2019 and is currently working through the legislative process. The bill essentially states that a public entity in Missouri may not enter into contracts with companies that engage in the boycott of goods or services from Israel.
After his speech, Onder introduced Cpl. Chen Shwartz and 1st Lt. Gil Benedek, two soldiers who were both wounded fighting for Israel. Benedek spoke first, elaborating on his family's past in surviving the holocaust and their move to Israel afterward. His grandfather started a business employing both Arabs and Jews. Benedek then spoke of his time as an infantryman in Israel's army, specifically recounting the mission he was wounded in during Operation Protective Edge.
Shwartz took the stage after Benedek, and also spoke about his time in Israel's military. He recounted an experience where he was shot three times at a bus stop by an Arab militant. Shwartz recalled how he was treated by a team of mostly Arab doctors and medical staff and how he was expected to never walk again.
The event concluded with a Q&A session, although few questions were asked. Rather, the pro-Palestine protesters, or "students with different perspectives" as Alkoby prefers to call them, used this time to voice their own opinions, which Alkoby encouraged.
"I'm not trying to suppress anybody's opinion, I just want to make sure everybody's time is respected,” Alkoby said. Among the opposing viewpoints was George Smith, retired MU professor of biology and Nobel Prize Laureate who advocated for BDS during the Q&A session.
"I have been an activist for freedom, justice, and equality in Palestine for many years,” Smith said during an interview with The Maneater. “In particular I support the BDS. This movement is not about expelling Israeli Jews. It specifically affirms the right of Israeli Jews to live in peace in the homeland that they share with Palestinians."
Alkoby stayed after the event officially concluded to discuss with several attendees.
"I think the students here should be very proud … I've seen many of these events and they were disastrous,” Alkoby said. “I really respect every student in this event for listening, it's what I originally asked for … and the fact that students who don't share the same perspective came to listen, I respect that. Really they show a lot of courage."
Edited by Ben Scott | email@example.com