Israeli LGBTQIA* activist’s speech interrupted by student protesters

Swetha Nakshatri | Contributing Reporter

A speech by an Israeli LGBTQIA* activist was interrupted when members of Students for Justice in Palestine staged a walkout on Monday night.

The event, which was jointly organized by WashU Hillel, Nice Jewish Queers, Washington University Students for Israel, Hillel International and the Jewish United Fund’s Israel Education Center, featured Etai Pinkas, former chairperson of the national LGBT association in Israel and member of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council, who discussed the history and current state of affairs concerning LGBTQIA* issues in Israel.

Etai Pinkas, named one of the 100 most influential people in Israel, speaks in Umrath lounge on Monday. The event focused on LGBTQ* issues in Israel and was sponsored by Hillel at Wash. U.Kayla Steinberg

Etai Pinkas, named one of the 100 most influential people in Israel, speaks in Umrath lounge on Monday. The event focused on LGBTQ* issues in Israel and was sponsored by Hillel at Wash. U.

At the event, Pinkas spoke both about his personal history of activism and Israel’s history, discussing both the successes and setbacks that he and other LGBTQIA* rights activists have faced in their fight for workplace, marriage and adoption rights.

Near the conclusion of Pinkas’s speech, prior to the question and answer session, a group of around 10 protesters affiliated with Students for Justice in Palestine stood up wearing tape over their mouths and signs reading “No Pride in Apartheid” before leaving the room. Despite the disruption, Pinkas concluded his speech as planned and transitioned into answering questions from the audience.

Audience members had mixed reactions to the methods and effectiveness of the protestors. Sophomore Monica Sass, a member of Hillel Leadership Council and the president of Nice Jewish Queers, noted that the students conducted their protest respectfully. However, she believed that they missed an important conversation and lost an opportunity for productive discourse by implying that all Israelis are responsible for the actions of the Israeli government.

“As a Jewish and queer student, I feel disappointed that student activists chose to walk out simply because he was talking about his experiences as an Israeli citizen, rather than listen to an important discussion of LGBTQIA rights in the Jewish state,” she said in a statement to Student Life.

Others expressed that the protests were misguided, considering the intended tone and nature of the event. Freshmen Sydney Shaiman and Allie Engel were disappointed by what they saw as the protest’s devaluing of Pinkas’s work as an activist.

“I think it’s really disappointing that this guy does so much for his country and he’s not making a political statement about everything about his country, he’s trying to fix one issue and people come in and blame him for things he’s not doing,” Shaiman said. “He does amazing work, just like how activists in the U.S. can’t fix everything about the U.S., so, I think I feel bad for him.”

Engel added that she felt the protests were ironic because Pinkas’s speech was focused on freedoms in Israel and advocacy for LGBTQIA* rights and did not, in her view, have any relation to the protesters’ cause.

However, both agreed that they appreciated Pinkas’s message and his talk as a whole despite the protest.

“I know a lot about Israel and I love Israel so I was more here to just support him and say thank you for everything that he’s done,” Shaiman said. “I think it’s amazing how modern Israel can be and people don’t know that.”

Students for Justice in Palestine did not respond to requests for comment.

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