By: Brahmjot Kaur and Nate Izzo
Photos By: Nate Izzo and Katie Herchenroeder
On Thursday, November 15, 2018, StudentsSupporting Israel (SSI) hosted Consul General of Israel Dani Dayan to speak at an event at City College. According to SSI’s Facebook event description, Dayan discusses “Israel’s role on the international stage, the rise of anti-Semitism, its inherent correlation with anti-Zionism, and what it all means for the future of Jews.” During the event, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), along with their supporters, protested outside of the North Academic Center (NAC) with signs and chants bringing their demonstration inside. The strife between SSI and SJP continues as the geopolitical situation in the Palestine-Israel territory continues to worsen.
Consul General Dani Dayan was previously invited to speak at City College in Spring 2017. During the previous event, there was an incident in the auditorium where the student moderator was unable to maintain decorum in the room. According to President Boudreau, this incident was the reason neutral faculty moderators at City College events with speakers were put into place.
In Spring 2018, SJP hosted an event at CityCollege that gained controversy. SJP invited Miko Peled, a writer who was born into a prominent Zionist family. Peled’s father was an Israeli General and his grandfather signed the Declaration of Independence for Israel. He is in “support of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, (BDS) and the creation of a single democracy with equal rights on all historic Palestine,” according to SJP’s event page on Facebook.
On April 18, 2018, The City College Director of Student Life & Leadership Development O’Lanso Gabbidon requested to meet with the board of SJP to tell the club their event for May 3 was going to be canceled. Gabbidon went on to say that The City College’s administration found Peled’s views to be “particularly controversial” as stated in a letter from Palestine Legal to the administration of City College. In an interview shortly following the event, which was reinstated, Boudreau went on to firmly explain that the statement from Gabbidon does not reflect the views of City College and that the school welcomes discussion. It was believed by SJP that there was a “double standard” according to previous SJP president, Nehad A.
Given Dayan’s political rank and the incident at his previous appearance on this campus, extra security measures were put into place around Aronow Theater. The exit from the theater and the hallway leading to it were blocked off, and the one entrance left was outfitted with a metal detector and bag search station. Public Safety officers and Israeli security guards patrolled the area. Seats towards the front of the theater was also restricted, presumably for Dayan’s safety.
Dayan spoke about a wide range of topics, spending a significant amount of time criticizing the state of antisemitism in the world today: “I must admit that as an Israeli… the fact that in the streets of the United States America you can wave a Nazi flag with the swastika with impunity is incomprehensible. With all due respect to the first amendment, we know that those things ultimately kill.” He expressed his solidarity with victims of antisemitic violence, including those affected by the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting in late October, stating that such violence is covered on local news and treated as a domestic issue.
Zionism was also a point of focus; Dayan defined the movement as “the belief that the Jewish people [have] a right to establish a sovereign state in its homeland. No more than that, no less than that.” This proclamation was met with applause from the audience. Dayan also declared Zionism as “the most progressive movement human history has seen in the last century,” praising the audience for their role in it.
Eventually, a group of protesters supporting Palestine entered the theater and sat down in the back few rows, holding up picket signs and waving Palestinian flags. Dayan addressed them directly, asking them why the flag they flew did not represent an independent nation. The reason he gave was that they decided to have a state only if it came with the “annihilation of Israel.” Fortunately, Dayan’s speech ended without any clashes nonverbal between the two groups, although words were exchanged across the theatre.
Before the protesters entered Aronow Theater, Naeela Djemil, the current SJP president, made it clear that they were originally gathered on the steps of the NAC Plaza. Among the protesters were the SJP, their supporters, and Neturei Karta, a sect of Judaism that believes that Jewish people should not have their own state until the coming of the Messiah. They gathered to protest Dayan’s reappearance at CCNY.
The group had a variety of people speak, including Jewish anti-Zionists, Neturei Karta members, and SJP members. They had several chants, one proclaiming “Not another nickel, not another dime! No money for Israel’s crimes!” They also held picket signs, inscribed with phrases such as “Stop All U.S. Aid to Apartheid Israel!” and “Smash Imperialism andZionism!”
Djemil explained how Dani Dayan had been invited to speak at City College. When recounting the previous protest, she said, “he came a few years ago and the protest that happened a few years ago, that wasn’t something SJP planned and it was just something that ended up happening. It wasn’t organized or anything but I feel like the reaction to when he came [previously] has a lot to say about what [SSI] should’ve expected this time because they obviously know this man makes people who are Pro-Palestinian angry.”
When discussing the outcome of the current protest, Djemil said she believed it was a success. “The main reason it was a huge success is because we had people who did not even go to City College come to the protest and on top of that, we were able to manage that. We were able to navigate through the protest without any sort of crazy arguments or interactions. We trained our members very well and made sure that we avoided any sort of altercations.”
Oshra Bitton, the social media chairperson for SSI and Helen Seif, the founder of said organization, discussed the event, as well as the protest. Bitton was one of the coordinators for the Dani Dayan event. When speaking about the audience at the event, Bitton made it clear that “this event was open to the public. We didn’t screen any of the members who came in and we allowed this event to be open to all and all we requested was people show up with ID and sign in and go through security procedures.”
Audience members such as Vicky Williams, a CUNY alumn, was just one of many who commented on the event and protest to The Campus. “I enjoyed the event very much, I think the Ambassador was brilliant and he was very patient and knowledgeable in how he responded to some of the idiotic questions that were being thrown at him. I don’t even know why they were here quite frankly, they shouldn’t have been here. That isn’t freedom of speech, this is an event for us,”said Williams, a Hunter alumn.
The New Jewish Defense League “are a Jewish advocacy group that follows the five principles that the late Rabbi Kahane HY”D set out for the original JDL,” according to their Facebook page. The original Jewish Defense League (JDL) has been classified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigation. Litchbraun, a member of the New Jewish Defense League, commented on the protest as well: “Everything was going fine and the protestors did not follow the rules. [The protestors] were trying to stop our freedom of speech, the speaker’s freedom of speech. He didn’t stop them, they were not stopped by Public Safety or NYPD so they had their freedom of speech but they tried to stop ours.”
While Dayan was speaking, you could hear a collective groan from the protestors occasionally. Signs were inscribed with phrases like “Anti-Israel is NOT Anti-Semitism” and “No One is Free When OthersAre Oppressed”.
The event ended with protesters and supporters of SJP being shuffled out of Aronow Theater. While the protest was peaceful, it was able to stir outrage throughout the room. “I think there should always be a commotion. It’s a protest, it’s not an event. That’s what a protest is, it” Djemil said. Bitton ended with emphasizing that “[SJP] has a right to host their speakers, do whatever they want. We want to hold our events in peace and they are free to protest us.”