March 4, 2013

Letter: Activists disrespect visiting lecturer

In demonstration against American-Israeli speaker, Students for Justice in Palestine rejected UChicago’s tradition of open dialogue.

On the evening of February 25, the World Behind the Headlines program at I-House held an event entitled “Legitimate Target: A Criteria-Based Approach to Targeted Killing.” Amos Guiora, an American-Israeli law professor at the University of Utah and counterterrorism specialist, was invited to talk about targeted killings, the criteria for determining what is a legitimate target, and the need for restrictions on current drone warfare.

Before the event began, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) representatives were protesting in front of I-House, blocking the path for people to enter the building. This was not only an inconvenience for people who wanted to attend the event, but for the residents of I-House as well.

The talk began relatively peacefully, without any major disturbances, and many SJP members sat in the front row of the hall. As soon as the law professor mentioned that he served for 19 years in the Israel Defense Forces, the students turned their chairs around and put their backs toward the distinguished speaker. They accused him of being a war criminal and yelled for the end of “the occupation.” The professor did not engage and was booed as a coward. Eventually, the protesters caused enough of a disturbance that I-House staff asked them to leave.

It is certainly reasonable for people to disagree with a speaker’s opinion. However, it is rude to interrupt an event with political statements that are unrelated to the topic at large. What I find most fascinating is that SJP did not criticize Professor Guiora’s views on targeted killings in their chair demonstration. Rather, they criticized the fact that he was an Israeli and had served in the IDF. They were not protesting his opinion, but rather his right to speak. The University of Chicago is a rich intellectual community that shares the values of free thought, expression, and civil discourse. SJP’s actions on Monday broke from this tradition. I hope they will recognize their inappropriate actions and change their behavior accordingly.

Blake Fleischer, Class of 2015