The director of Stanford University's Jewish center stepped in at the last moment to host a group of Israelis from minority backgrounds after the student club that had invited them to speak on campus pulled its support, citing university pressure.
Rabbi Dov Greenberg of Stanford Chabad told the Washington Free Beacon he agreed to host a delegation from a group called Reservists on Duty when Stanford Israel Association posted on Facebook less than a day before the scheduled Monday event that it was nixing the program.
"Due to a combination of procedural issues and concerns raised by the University regarding past behavior by the organization due to speak, we suspended the event," wrote SIA.
"SIA remains committed to promoting the voices of Israeli minorities and to fostering a positive conversation about Israeli culture, history, and politics on Stanford's campus; we no longer believe hosting this event is the best way to achieve this," the group added.
Greenberg said the RoD delegation called him before midnight Sunday and explained they had arrived in northern California for their first stop on a multi-state tour to find out they had nowhere to speak. Greenberg offered a room in his center for the presentation, which features Christian and Muslim reservists from the Druze, Bedouin, and Arab Israeli communities speaking to American university students about their personal experiences in and out of the army.
Asked about the concerns raised by SIA, Greenberg said, "Of course [RoD] causes problems. They dispel lies about Israel, they go against what is politically correct. But as people, they are graceful, cordial, intellectually open. They couldn't be nicer."
With about seven hours of prep time, Greenberg said he was able to pack a room with approximately 70 students from across disciplines and religious backgrounds, from freshman to post-grads.
"Today, we have safe spaces on campus, but the mind isn't supposed to be a safe space. It is meant to be challenged," Greenberg said. "If you're looking for your mind to be in safe space, you shouldn't be at Stanford. You should still be in Pre-1A."
The students who attended the RoD program did not shy away from debate, said Greenberg.
"The event went 30, 40 minutes overtime, which is unusual here because Stanford students are very busy. There was a robust, challenging question and answer time, and no one raised their voice," said Greenberg.
The rabbi added, "I can profoundly disagree with you, and still respect and love you as a human being. That's how you have healthy, open debate."
Questions to SIA leadership about the problematic "past behavior" and the "procedural issues" were not answered.
The comments may refer to a May appearance by a RoD delegation at the University of California-Irvine, which was disrupted by protesters from campus club Students for Justice in Palestine. Police were called to escort the Israeli soldiers and the audience safely out of the building after protesters blocked the main exit.
SJP later accused the reservists of harassing its members, charges that RoD and its hosts at UCI rejected as spurious.
SJP has since been sanctioned by UCI for its shout-down of the event—the second such incident in as many years—though the student group is appealing its probation.
Stanford student Elliot Kaufman, who attended Monday's event, said he believed SIA "acted very cowardly."
"Just think about it: These non-Jewish Israeli minorities want to support Israel and talk about their own experiences, dispelling the lies that SJP tells, but our pro-Israel group is too good and pristine to even associate with them," said Kaufman. "The speakers have received death threats for what they're doing, and our ‘pro Israel' students are just going to strand them and abandon them because they faced a little criticism?"
Kaufman said Greenberg gave a "rousing introduction" to the reservists' speech, praising their courage in "telling the truth about Israel as a free and democratic country for all its people."
The university did not respond to request for comment.