“There’s hardly a campus that an Israeli official can come to without being harassed by anti-Israel or anti-Semitic groups”
ast Wednesday, Dani Dayan, Israel’s consul in New York, came to Harvard University to deliver a lecture titled “The Legal Strategy of Israeli Settlements.” But even before he opened his mouth, half of the students rose from their seats and walked out, in what quickly became a viral video on social media. In a conversation with Mishpacha, Dayan discussed the incident and what it tells us about anti-Israel animus on American campuses. A former chairman of the Yesha Council, Dayan also explained how the protest has reaffirmed his commitment to defend Israel.
Tell us why you went to Harvard.
“I was invited to come speak by the Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at Harvard Law School. The story behind the invitation is also interesting. At the chasunah of Rabbi Aaron Kotler’s son in Lakewood, I was approached by Menachem Butler, an Orthodox Jew who’s a fellow at the program, and he invited me to come and give a lecture about the Israeli settlements. On the one hand, I’m not a legal expert, but on the other, the subject is close to my heart. I hesitated, but decided it was important that Israel’s position be heard in the world’s most prestigious university.”
What happened when you came? What kind of behavior did you encounter?
“When I entered the lecture hall, I was surprised to see a far larger audience than I had expected. I began speaking, [but then] about half the audience stood up and walked out, holding up anti-Israel signs. The other half stayed in their places. The lecture carried on quite normally for an hour, including an orderly question-and-answer session. Only on my way home to New York did I find out that the anti-Israel groups were portraying [on social media] what had happened as some kind of achievement.”
Has anything like this happened to you before? How did it make you feel? And could you describe in general terms what the atmosphere toward Israel on campuses is like?
“There’s hardly a campus that an Israeli official can come to without being harassed by anti-Israel or anti-Semitic groups. When Tzipi Livni went to Harvard, she was asked by a student — who was probably a member of the same group that protested against me — ‘Why do you stink?’ Even to me they were more polite.
“I was told that the person who headed [the walkout] was an Arab-Israeli from the university’s divinity school, a man who refers to the whole of Israel, on both sides of the Green Line, as ‘occupied Palestine.’ We’re talking about extremist groups who deny Israel’s right to exist. They make no distinction between Tel Aviv and Maaleh Shomron.
“At the end of the day, the anti-Semitic groups put on cheap theatrics, but I gave a detailed and comprehensive lecture on a subject that had never been treated in this manner at Harvard before. A recording of the lecture will be uploaded to Harvard Law School’s Internet site in the coming days. Of course, that’s a remarkable success for us in terms of explaining our position on the world stage.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 786)