FEBRUARY 14, 2020
A former Israel Defense Forces officer who led a humanitarian response to the bloody Syrian conflict recently spent a week touring university campuses in California, in a bid to counter misinformation and bolster student support for the Jewish state.
As part of Operation Good Neighbor, Lt. Col. (Res.) Eyal Dror established and led a unit that brought in more than 4,000 wounded Syrians to Israeli hospitals, secured treatment for hundreds of chronically-ill children, oversaw the evacuation of the White Helmets rescue group and delivered basic necessities including food, clothing and diesel fuel to civilians.
The operation ended in 2018 when the Syrian government recaptured territory along the border with Israel in the Golan Heights, and Dror retired this past September after 24 years of service.
He has since dedicated time to educating international audiences on Israel’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of Syrian civilians, along with its security challenges along the northern border.
Earlier this month, Dror addressed some 250 students at California State Long Beach, University of San Diego, University of California San Diego, University of California Riverside, Foothill College and San Jose State University, as well as at a Chabad for students at the University of California, Berkeley. It was his first speaking tour in the United States, following two stints in the United Kingdom.
Dror said his audience was “definitely” receptive to his message, especially at Berkeley, where the students had a “very hard time that week” following a rancorous student council debate over whether to condemn anti-Zionist students for “glorifying” terrorism.
The anti-Zionist students had displayed photos of a Palestinian hijacker wielding an AK-47 assault rifle, as well as of two Palestinian women who planted bombs targeting Israeli civilians, one of whom managed to kill two university students. (The Berkeley student council ultimately voted not to censor the anti-Zionist group over the display.)
Rabbi Gil Leeds of Berkeley’s Chabad center said in a statement provided to The Algemeiner that Dror’s presentation was “absolutely phenomenal” and “captivated” a crowd of more than 100 students.
“Especially if you’re on a campus like UC Berkeley where conversations about Israel can often become contentious and divisive, Eyal’s presentation was one of the most uplifting, inspirational and unifying messages that I have ever heard,” he added.
While largely well-received, Dror also attracted a limited protest by anti-Zionist students while speaking at UC Riverside on February 5.
“When I walked to the stage, they immediately stood up, put some tape on their mouths, and walked away from the class,” he recounted.
While the demonstration was relatively subdued and did not seek to derail the talk, as the two protests Dror faced in UK universities did, he expressed disappointment that the students did not seek to engage with his message at all — even critically.
“If they had heard me speak and, when I finished my talk, decided to protest and ask questions — that’s one thing. It’s criticism,” he said. “But to judge without hearing? To take a side without hearing a point?”
“I am not a representative or ambassador of the State of Israel, I am speaking my personal story,” Dror added. “Go and learn the story, go and learn the facts before protesting about Palestinians, who are not connected — this is Syria.”
These protesters will “never know what it feels like for an 18-20 year old IDF soldier to risk his [life for neighbors who] run towards Israel to get their lives saved,” he said in a separate statement.
Ilan Sinelnikov — the head of Students Supporting Israel (SSI), which organized Dror’s tour in partnership with StandWithUs — noted in a statement to The Algemeiner that his group was able to bring the former IDF officer “for [the] first time to a tour in the United States,” where he was able to teach students about Israel’s work on the Syrian border.
“SSI will continue bringing speakers on tour that make an impact,” he added, indicating that Dror will be “coming back to our campuses this fall.”
Rena Nasar First, StandWithUs executive director of campus affairs, said in a statement that she was “delighted that students of all backgrounds are able to hear from a true hero who helped organize the medical treatment of thousands of victims of the horrific Syrian Civil War.”
“Eyal and his team of medics represent Israel’s values, treating innocent people in need regardless of ongoing hostility towards Israel from the Syrian government,” she continued.
As for Dror, he is looking forward to returning to the US, despite the difficulties.
“It’s a very hard journey, leaving my wife and kids at home, but I think it’s very important and it’s a mission,” he said. “I can say now mission accomplished — for this time.”