Hecklers mar Israelis appearance at U.C. Davis

Ran Bar-Yoshafat and Ranya Fadel, two young Israelis on a speaking tour sponsored by the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, faced severe heckling during a Feb. 27 appearance at U.C. Davis.

As Bar-Yoshafat began to speak in front of a crowd of about 125 in Wellman Hall, an unidentified man began shouting from the back, “My only purpose today is that this event is shut down. You have turned Palestine into a land of prostitutes, rapists and child molesters.” The verbal outburst can be seen on YouTube.

The disruption went on for 15 minutes, according to eyewitnesses, and many of the people there to protest, some wearing “Free Gaza” T-shirts or other items identifying them as pro-Palestinian, eventually walked out en masse. That allowed Bar-Yoshafat and Fadel to resume their presentation, but not for long.

“They finally allowed the speakers to talk for a few moments here and there,” said Gail Rubin, chair of the Davis chapter of StandWithUs. “Then they would start screaming again.”

Matthew White, campus coordinator for StandWithUs, said the follow-up Q&A “got out of hand,” as he took a microphone around the room to field questions. “Some [people] were respectful, but finally this last guy was making a speech, so I cut him off and the place went berserk.”

According to White and Rubin, Rebbetzin Sorele Brownstein of Chabad of Davis (which co-sponsored the event) attempted to quiet the room.

“The rebbetzin stood up to talk, but they shouted and screamed at her,” said Rubin, who said she called campus police because she feared a physical altercation. White and Rubin said campus police did nothing to stop the heckling.

“At the end, the cops held people back,” White said, “and when I asked them to escort us out at the back of the room, the police joined us. Other then that, the police were useless.”

Claudia Morain, a spokesperson for U.C. Davis, said in a written statement that officers followed the university’s “usual approach to conflict, which is to resolve issues with dialogue and engagement wherever possible. That approach was successful in this case.” She noted that the initial heckler was persuaded “to leave voluntarily and… was bared from re-entering the venue.”

After the event, White said, two Pakistani Muslim students approached him and said, “We’re really sorry. This doesn’t represent us.”

Rubin said it is becoming increasingly difficult for campus groups and other organizations to “bring in anything that is pro-Israel.”

She added: “There is a tyranny in place on many campuses where Muslim students are becoming more aggressive, more filled with hate speech and more intimidating. And they are getting away with it.”

The incident at U.C. Davis was one of three pro-Israeli/pro-Palestinian encounters in Northern California in a three-day span.

On Feb. 25, two days before the start of “Israel Apartheid Week” on the U.C. Berkeley campus, Berkeley police cited two people for using pepper spray during a small pro-Palestinian street rally near the campus. According to a report in the Daily Californian student newspaper, two self-identified supporters of Israel — whose names were not divulged in the press account nor by Berkeley police — showed up at the rally carrying a video camera, pepper spray and a stun gun.

During a subsequent shouting match, the Daily Californian reported, three people uninvolved with the demonstration, one brandishing a large stick, approached the pro-Israel demonstrators and tried to mediate. At that point, the newspaper reported, the pro-Israel people sprayed pepper spray on the “mediators.” Police and paramedics were called to the scene, the paper reported, though no one was arrested and no one required hospitalization.

That same day, Gilad Atzmon, a London-based, Israeli-born musician and activist labeled a “hate-monger” by the Anti-Defamation League for his extreme criticism of Israel and Jews, spoke at an arts center in Oakland. Some two dozen members of StandWithUs/San Francisco Voice for Israel protested outside. According to one pro-Israel activist, only 25 people showed up for Atzmon’s talk.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.