Israeli Soldiers Share Their Stories on College Campuses, Face Some Protests
Former Israeli soldiers are touring US college campuses in an effort to raise awareness of the realities of their service, drawing both interested students and occasional protests.
Chen and Aviv, whose last names were withheld for security purposes, spoke on Monday at Stanford University in California, at the invitation of the school’s Israel Association. “Ask the tough questions, and learn what it is actually like to live in a country that is the subject of so much discussion in the media and on campus,” organizers advertised.
The duo is part of the 11th Israeli Soldiers Tour sponsored by StandWithUs, an Israel advocacy and education organization, which brought six pairs of Israeli reservists to present on college campuses, high schools, synagogues, and churches nationwide from October 14 to October 28.
The group hopes that the young Israelis’ personal stories will help put a “human face” on the country’s military, which anti-Zionist groups often accuse of war crimes.
The tour includes stops at 44 colleges, the majority of which proceed without incident, according to StandWithUs. Yet some draw protests, as was the case recently at Stanford, where some 11 members of the anti-Zionist group Jewish Voice for Peace staged a demonstration. They stood in the back of the room with signs including, “the IDF =/= democracy,” and handed out fliers denouncing Israeli forces for using “excessive force against peaceful protesters” engaged in the “March of Return” in the Gaza Strip, which is organized by the Islamist terrorist group Hamas.
The incident comes on the heels of another protest on Wednesday at Oregon State University, where members of the school’s Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights (SUPER) club blocked Chen and Aviv’s presentation with signs calling for a “free Palestine” and an end to US military aid to Israel.
“This event is part of Israel’s efforts to minimize and erase the ongoing human rights violations against Palestinians,” SUPER argued.
Similar opposition has at times faced Aviad Yisraeli and Naftali Gross, members of My Truth, a group of Israeli reserve soldiers who seek to challenge those “who promote political agendas by cynically slandering” the IDF around the world.
The pair — currently on a tour that has included stops at Penn State, Mercer University, Wake Forest University, and Drake University, among others — spoke at the University of Minnesota on Thursday, at the invitation of the school’s Students Supporting Israel (SSI) group. They were greeted by about a dozen protesters organized by the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, who congregated on the steps of the building where their event was held.
Ilan Sinelnikov — a founder of SSI who attended the lecture — filmed one protester raising her middle finger while repeatedly calling the group “f*cking Zionists,” before another man derided them as “war criminals.”
“We tried to invite them in to hear us, and have a conversation,” My Truth said in a statement on Friday, “but they avoided any eye contact with the Zionists (aka- us), yelled and screamed, cursed and ignored our invitation.”
“We truly feel bad for people who are so afraid of hearing something that might compromise their one sided perspective, that the only way they could protect their world view is to ignore and avoid any conversation,” the group continued.
Their lecture nonetheless took place as planned in a classroom with some 15 students in attendance. “I didn’t choose to become a combat soldier because I have a gun fetish,” Yisraeli explained in his opening remarks, after recounting the personal impact Palestinian terrorism had on him as a child, including through the deaths of his classmates. “I chose to become a combat soldier because that meant protecting myself, protecting my values, protecting my family — and coming here as part of this organization to share these experiences with you is part of what we do to tell you that we do share the same values.”
“We all want peace, we all want safety, we all want freedom,” he continued, “and we just need to fight to protect those values.”