WOODBRIDGE, Conn. — The Middle East conflict hit home Tuesday afternoon as protesters gathered to demonstrate outside the Joseph E. Slifka Center for Jewish Life. Their cause: Gaza. Their target: retired Israeli Airforce Brigadier General Nechemia Dagan.
Dagan was invited to Yale to speak about Israel’s invasion of the Palestinian-occupied Gaza Strip, a conflict renewed Dec. 27 that Palestinian medical officials say has already taken the lives of more than 971 Palestinians and 13 Israelis. Although the Slifka Center had initially planned to host Dagan, police concerns forced the event to relocate to the Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven here in neighboring Woodbridge. In his address, Dagan admitted to having “mixed feelings” about the offensive and mentioned that fighting could soon end, but the Brigadier General took a hard-line stance on Hamas.
“I believe that by the end of the week it will end,” he said.
Dagan argued that the late Yasser Arafat — formerly President of the Palestinian Authority — had fought “on a battlefield among civilians”, thereby provoking instability in the region, and that all Palestinians must share part of the responsibility.
“If you elected them [Hamas], then what is the situation that you [Palestinians] are not involved?” he asked.
Slifka Center organizers contacted the Yale Police Department when organizers received word that Connecticut pro-Palestinian group “The Struggle” had sent out a mass e-mail asking people to picket the event. Organizers said the YPD gave the Slifka Center three options: cancel the event, move it to a different location or pay $1500 to have eight officers on hand with bomb-sniffing dogs. The action prompted criticism from event organizers.
“I personally feel [the police precautions] weren’t necessary and even stifling,” event organiser and Yale Friends of Israel President Benjamin Alter ’11 said. “What’s disturbing to me is that this is our campus, this is our building, we wanted to have a discussion with someone we invited, and because of protesters not affiliated with Yale coming to our campus, the police department is making us leave our own campus.”
Yale Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith said in an e-mail that the police response to the event was in the interest of the “overall safety” of students.
By 4:45 p.m. Tuesday, a group of 25 protesters had gathered in front of the Slifka Center, holding banners decrying the U.S.’s provision of aid to Israel and chanting, “Free, free, Palestine! Occupation is a crime!” Older men and women in cowboy hats and Keffiyehs stuck it out in the 34-degree weather, saying they had serious concerns about the fighting’s toll on civilians in Gaza.
“They’re supposed to be the most precise military in the world, you can’t have this level of civilian casualty by mistake from this precise a military,” protester Kanishka Ezimi said.
Ultimately, some 30 students and community members were on hand here in Woodbridge for the event. Slifka officials and students with cars carpooled to the community center, but others could not attend due to the distance. Those who could not attend voiced their disappointment.
“The poster just says ‘Has Been Moved to Another Location,’ I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that before,” said one recent alumnus, who wished to remain anonymous due to the political sensitivity of the topic.
Dagan spoke to the historical origins of the fighting and fielded a range of audience questions, from a potential Israeli response to a nuclear Iran to what Israel planned to do about Hezbollah’s presence in Lebanon.