When a reserve member of the Israel Defense Forces spoke at Little Hall Tuesday night, protesters got up from their seats and left in support of Palestine.
More than 100 people gathered for his presentation, but only 17 remained until the end.
Yoni Michanie, 26, is a representative of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis and reserve member of the Israel Defense Forces. He was scheduled to speak to a crowd in Little Hall about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
He said the event was to humanize Palestinians and discuss the role Palestinian leadership plays in the peace process. However, protesters said they wanted to bring awareness to recent bombings in the Gaza Strip, during which Israeli and Palestinian forces exchanged rocket fire despite the rising death toll.
An Isreali strike on Palestine in the Gaza Strip killed Palestinian commander Baha Abu al-Ata Nov. 12, according to the New York Times. Palestinian militants fired rockets at Israel in response, causing some injury.
Michanie was invited to speak by four pro-Israel advocacy groups, The Alexander Hamilton Society and the UF chapter of his own organization, he said. He was not paid.
Unaware of how many people in the audience were protestors, Michanie said his excitement about the size of the crowd quickly turned to sadness when they walked out.
“Part of me is torn apart that at one of the best universities in the state, 100 people decided to walk out,” he said.
He said he asked protesters to stay and ask him questions while they were leaving.
Laila Fakhoury, a 22-year-old UF philosophy and family, youth and community sciences senior, organized the protest and spoke at the candlelight vigil, which was held outside after the walk-out.
“So many people are dying every single day in Gaza, so it [this event] is disrespectful and a disservice to the people who are on campus who have been directly affected by these bombings,” she said.
The known names and ages of 34 people who were killed were read aloud before a moment of silence during the vigil.
Other protesters spoke of their experiences as U.S. immigrants. Some said they were teased for their clothing and religion, and others encouraged students to fight fascism.
Saja Hussein, UF Students for Justice in Palestine treasurer, protested to raise awareness and to mourn the recent deaths.
Hussein, a 19-year-old UF political science sophomore, is Palestinian and said it hurts to not visit family in her home country.
“I can’t, as a Palestinian, go back to my native land,” she said. “But someone like the speaker today is able to so easily come to America, then come back for a weekend in Israel.”
The students who stayed for the speech were as disappointed as Michanie.
Victor Santos, a 23-year-old UF political science senior and vice president of Christians United for Israel, said the protest caused difficulty for event organizers.
“If you think that an idea is bad, you discuss it,” he said.
Maia Kofman, a 19-year-old UF animal science sophomore, stayed for Michanie’s presentation. She said that she is pro-Israel and attended the presentation to show support for Israel and Michanie.
“It is so important to show support for something that typically doesn’t have a lot of support,” she said. “The fact that they left before they could even hear him speak is very saddening.”
Correction: This article was updated to correct how many Israelis were injured after Palestinian militants fired rockets at Israel in response. The Alligator previously reported differently.
Yoni Michanie, activist and Sgt. 1st Class in the Israeli Defense Force, talks with students Tuesday night after speaking in Little Hall.
About 100 students hold a candlelight vigil outside of Little Hall Tuesday night. The group walked out of Michanie’s speaking event in protest of the bombings in the Gaza Strip by Israel.
Meghan McGlone is a UF junior majoring in journalism and English, and this year she’s the City and County Commission reporter. In past years, she’s served as the University Editor, the Student Government reporter, and other positions. Her favorite past time is eating gummy worms and reading a good book.