A group of around 20 student protesters disrupted former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s Oct. 23 speech at Duke University.
The Duke Chronicle reports that the disruption began at an event hosted by The Duke Program for American Grand Strategy (AGS). Moderator Bruce Jentleson asked Livni about the 2008-2009 Gaza War and a student interrupted Livni, shouting that the war was a “massacre.”
Other students followed suit, shouting the names of Palestinians that Israeli soldiers killed; eventually, they started chanting, “You can’t hide, we charge you with genocide” at Livni.
According to the Duke Chronicle, the disruption lasted two-and-a-half minutes before security escorted the protesters out; the protesters shouted “Shame!” at Livni as they were leaving.
When the protest ended, Livni said, “It’s a shame that we cannot have this discussion” and proceeded to defend Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
“Put yourself in my position in the Israeli cabinet,” Livni said. “You will decide whether you would let terrorists kill your own civilians.”
AGS Director Peter Feaver told the Duke Chronicle that he encouraged the protesters to ask questions to Livni during the question-and-answer session rather than disrupt the event. He said he was “disappointed” that they decided to disrupt the event, arguing that doing so “had the effect of closing off discussion.”
One of the protesters, student James Mbuthia, told the Duke Chronicle that they decided to disrupt the event because they viewed Livni’s as “an act of violence.”
StandWithUs Co-Founder and CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Journal, “It’s immensely ironic and hypocritical that anti-Israel activists, who constantly cry wolf about their free speech rights being violated, would attempt to shout down a speaker they disagree with.
They want to censor and intimidate their opponents, so they can spread hate without facing any criticism or accountability. Unfortunately for them, free speech means Israelis and their supporters not only have every right to speak, but also to expose and condemn the lies and bigotry of anti-Israel groups.”
She continued: “Too bad they didn’t participate and ask their questions within a civil conversation, instead of shouting and then leaving.”
Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in a phone interview that he found it “quite amazing” that the protesters found a former Israeli diplomat to be worthy of protest rather than a speaker of a similar position in countries like Russia, China, Saudi Arabia or Qatar. He also pointed out that Livni “is a well-known feminist” and has “impeccable” credentials on the left.
“The goal here is nothing about advancing human rights,” Cooper said. “The goal here… is the demonization and de-legitimization of the Jewish State of Israel.”
He added that such disruptions will only stop “when university officials at Duke” and other colleges “grow a pair and grow up and stand up and say, ‘We have rules here at the university… you don’t have the right to stop the freedom of speech of others.’”
Duke Vice President and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Mary Pat McMahon, who attended the event, told the Duke Chronicle in an email, “The students who attempted to disrupt the event this evening clearly had impassioned views. I’m interested in working with student groups and faculty in the future to determine if we can find avenues to foster constructive engagement with speakers.”