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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Editor's Note: This letter includes details of a statement made by IDF reserve member Yoni Michanie in which he said that protesters referred to him as a Nazi while he was speaking at UF. Recent reporting by The Alligator includes first-hand testimony from students, a UF professor and videos of the protest that do not corroborate Michanie's claim of paper signs referring to him as such. The author of this letter did not attend the event.

On Tuesday, nearly 100 UF students showed up to a speaker event and behaved appallingly.

Yoni Michanie, 26, a representative of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and a reserve member of the Israel Defense Forces was invited by various pro-Israel groups on campus to speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Michanie’s speech, titled, “Why There is No Palestinian State,” discussed the need to humanize Palestinians, making a distinction between people and leadership. 

The two problems are not in the speaker, the speech or even the choice to protest.

The first lies in the protestors’ choice not to listen to the speaker and have an open discussion, and to hold signs accusing him of being a Nazi, a war criminal and a filthy colonialist, according to a tweet by Michanie.

I am an avid proponent of free speech, so my problem isn’t with the act of protest in itself, but the route they chose. 

When the protestors stood up to leave, not only was it disrespectful to the speaker, but intimidating to those few who were there to listen. The disrespect and intimidation is only increased with protesters hurling lies at the speaker. 

Calling a Jew a Nazi is not only a lie, but diminishes the atrocities committed by the Nazis in the Holocaust. The idea that Michanie is a “filthy colonialist” is anti-Semitic in itself, as it denies the indigeneity of the Jews to the land of Israel. 

What the protestors should have done is sit and listen to the talk, then question the speaker after. 

As the protestors were leaving, Michanie implored them to stay and discuss the issues they have. Instead, they left and learned nothing that might challenge their orthodoxy. 

A university is supposed to be not only a bastion of free speech, but the free exchange of ideas. How can we be considered a top university if our students are unable to challenge their beliefs and debate those they disagree with?

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The second problem is the way it was reported by The Alligator. Clearly biased, the article focused on victimizing the student protestors, while failing to completely share both sides of the story. 

The writers focused disproportionately on quotes from the protestors, and the vigil held following the walkout, while not fully or completely on the quotes of the speaker and non-protestors. 

When asked, “What message would you like to give to all those students who walked out of the protest?”

It would’ve been helpful for the reader, to have quoted his answer in full.

The article also failed to emphasize the goal of Michanie’s talk.

Cutting important segments of quotes from the speaker and hosts, focusing mostly on the protestors is journalistic injustice that aims to make the protestors the victims in need of sympathy.

A vigil was held after the walkout in honor of those Palestinians killed by the IDF, 18 of which were Palestinian militants, which says everything. The article also fails to mention the number of rockets fired toward Israel, which was about 450.

It’s incredibly worrying to see a rise of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitic attitudes disguised as such, appearing on college campuses. Results from an 2017-2018 FBI report show that across America, Jews were the number one recipient of religious hate crimes. Just this week, at York University in Canada, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) protestors violently assaulted a group of Jewish attendees of a pro-Israel event.

Students for Justice in Palestine are disguising their hate as defense of Palestinians. They threw away an opportunity for dialogue. Their choice to leave shows their closed-mindedness and their victimization is perpetuated by The Alligator’s article. 

In the end, the protestors did nothing to support Palestinians; all they did was show the world the worst UF has to offer.

Geoffrey Datz is a UF international studies junior

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