Please note: This article, originally published on March 8, 2012, was updated on March 9. Update appears below.
On Monday, February 27th , two Israeli soldiers gave a presentation (or at least, attempted to) at the University of California, Davis, meant to correct misconceptions about the moral standards of the IDF.
Many IDF soldiers feel a deep sense of injustice at how some are misrepresenting them and the IDF. We want to tell you, the public, about our personal experiences, explains the Israeli Soldiers Stories (ISS) website, an effort of StandWithUs.
Several UC Davis students associated with Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim Student Association, and Jewish Voice for Peace attended the lectures (one by a Jewish Israeli and the other by a Druze Israeli) and heckled the presenters. Particularly notable was the self-identified Indian UCD student (I'm not from Palestine, I'm Indian!), who accused the ISS guests of turning Palestine into a land of prostitutes, rapists and child molesters. The student even asked the presenters How many women have you raped? How many children have you raped? You are a child molester! And he admitted freely: I can embarrass myself all I want. I will stand here and I will heckle! My only purpose today is that this event is shut down!
A Jweekly.com article further describing the heckling and apparent non-action of campus police can be found here.
Yesterday, Professor Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and co-founder of the Amcha Initiative, published a letter to UC president Mark Yudof and the rest of the UC administration decrying the behavior of the hecklers. In the letter, Professor Rossman-Benjamin cites claims by audience members that the Indian student was paid $50 to shout such accusations at the presenters.
A member of the CCAP funded UC Davis pro-Israel organization, Aggies for Israel, corroborates this claim, reporting that he himself witnessed the Indian student in question (identified as Tiru Narayanan) approach another member of the pro-Israel student group and the Provost/ Executive Vice-Chancellor, Ralph Hexter, following the event. According to the student, Narayanan apologized profusely for his interruptions, claiming that he had been paid for his behavior and that he needed the money. Narayanan apparently also claimed that the students who paid him had given him a script, and that he was asked to review, memorize and deliver parts of the script as his interruption.
CAMERA's students at UC Davis have asked Provost Hexter to document Narayanan's verbal apology in writing, and are awaiting a response.
CAMERA's student Liaison also noted that Tiru Narayanan published a written apology in the March 6th print version of The Aggie, UC Davis' student newspaper. A search revealed that the apology could not be found in the online edition of the paper (though, there is a PDF of the print version available on The Aggie website). In addition, Aggies for Israel posted a photo of the piece on their Facebook group. The piece reads,
I am writing to apologize for my behavior on Feb. 27, 2012 at the Israeli Soldier event at Wellman 106. While I was one of a group of hecklers, I became the face of the protest. Though I am still upset about the Israeli-Palestinian political situation, the manner in which I expressed my frustration was extremely inappropriate. I apologize for my behavior and my disrespect to the speakers and the university. In the current climate on campus with the spirit of Occupy, my ego and my mouth got out of hand. I know this is no excuse for my actions. I behaved in a way that is unbecoming of a student of the university and a member of my community. -Tirumular (Drew) Narayanan, second-year Medieval Studies major."
UC Davis CCAP students have scheduled a meeting with UC Davis police sargeant, Don Malloy, to discuss the incident, but report that, to the best of their knowledge, the UC administration is not taking any disciplinary action against the protestors.
The Amcha Initiative has also not yet published a response to its letter to the UC administration, though the UC Davis Dateline published a March 7th letter from Associate Vice Chancellor Griselda Castro, which stated,
This incident is currently under review to determine what appropriate follow up action(s) should apply. The pursuit of knowledge demands the free exchange of ideas and open expression of opinions and findings, including those that some may find disturbing or offensive in content, tone or timing. We recognize that all parties share the right to free expression
Serious exchange of ideas and debate is prevented when individuals shout down a speaker and dialogue cannot take place. The university finds such behavior deeply disturbing and inconsistent with the aspirations of our Principles of Community.
On the evening of Thursday, March 8th, University of California President Mark Yudof issued a strongly-worded letter to the UC community condemning the disruptions during the event:
"What is not acceptable are acts meant to disrupt the speech of others. What is not acceptable are hate-driven physical and, yes, verbal attacks on any group or individual that are meant to silence or intimidate those who would express differing opinions. It was wrong for hecklers to disrupt speakers on the UC Davis campus at an event entitled "Israeli Soldiers Speak Out." It was reprehensible that one of these hecklers accused the speakers of being associated with rapists and murderers....I want to make this clear: I condemn the actions of those who would disrupt this event. Attempting to shout down speakers is not protected speech. It is an action meant to deny others their right to free speech."
Calling Tiru Narayanan's actions reprehensible, Yudof also took the opportunity to address the recent vandalism of an Israeli flag at UC Riverside and to harken back to the hanging of a noose at UC Davis as a nasty jab at UCD's African American population. Using these examples to illustrate the UC administration's stated aversion to discrimination in any of its forms, Yudof likewise espoused the virtues of reasonable discourse on campus.
If such disruptions are indeed as unacceptable to the University administration as Yudof claims, it remains to be seen what actions they will take to discourage this behavior in the future.