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The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Israeli Soldiers Panel Sparks Student, Faculty Protests

Sofi Dippel/The Hoya | Several hundred Georgetown students and faculty protested an event held by Campus Ministry Feb. 27 that featured three members of the Israel Defense Force.

CW: This article discusses violence and death in Israel and Gaza, as well as antisemitism. Please refer to the end of the article for on- and off-campus resources.

Students and faculty groups gathered to protest a Georgetown University Campus Ministry event that brought three soldiers from the Israel Defense Force (IDF) to campus Feb. 27. 

The Georgetown Israel Alliance (GIA), a student organization that celebrates Israeli society and culture, and Georgetown Jewish Life, a part of Campus Ministry, co-hosted the panel titled, “In Their Own Words: Reflections on Serving Their Country.” An hour before the event’s start, several hundred student and faculty protesters organized in Red Square, including members of Georgetown University Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Georgetown Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (GUFSJP), pro-Palestine groups that support Palestinian self-determination, and Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), an anti-Zionist Jewish student group.

“Free the people, free the land, justice is our demand!” protesters chanted in Red Square. “No more hiding, no more fear, genocide is crystal clear.”

Shortly after the event with the IDF soldiers began, protest organizers told attendees to remain peaceful before relocating from Red Square to the front of the Rafik B. Hariri Building, where the three Israeli soldiers were speaking for an audience of roughly 70 people inside the Fisher Colloquium.

Inside the event with the IDF soldiers, more than a dozen individuals — several with red paint on their hands to mimic blood — held signs reading “Shame on GU” and “IOF Off Our Campus” before walking out in protest.

“I’m Jewish, and I stand with Palestine — ceasefire now,” one protester shouted as they walked out of the event. 

Jewish Life’s Decision to Host IDF Soldiers

The three IDF soldiers at the event were Avi Eisen, an active reservist in Israel’s navy; Noam Kara, a former lieutenant in the Israeli Air Force and a current Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Georgetown who works with Jewish Life; and Benaya Cherlow, who recently returned from fighting in Gaza and Lebanon for 105 days following the Oct. 7 Hamas militant attacks.

Sofi Dippel/The Hoya | Students and faculty started organizing in Red Square an hour before the event with the IDF soldiers commenced.

The soldiers discussed their time serving in the military both before and after Oct. 7, reflecting on their emotions in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’ initial attack and their experiences on the ground, including in the Gaza Strip. 

A university spokesperson said Georgetown is committed to facilitating open discourse, but condemns all forms of hate — including antisemitism and Islamophobia.

“Georgetown University is committed to the free and open exchanges of ideas, even if those ideas may be found difficult or objectionable by some,” the spokesperson wrote to The Hoya. “Georgetown University’s Speech and Expression policy governs the university’s approach to speech. An appearance of any speaker or guest on campus is not an endorsement by Georgetown University of their perspectives.”

Rabbi Daniel Schaefer, the interim director of Jewish Life at Georgetown, said although organizers seriously considered the controversy of the event, he felt that anti-Israel rhetoric on campus warranted hosting Israeli soldiers to share their perspectives with community members.

“While I know that that choice to invite members of the IDF in a time of war is particularly upsetting to some, as well as the choice of Jewish Life to organize and sponsor this event, we know that the effort to demonize and delegitimize Israel on this campus precedes Oct. 7,” Schaefer said at the event.

Among the protesters’ chants were calls for a return to pre-1948 boundaries, which predate the modern state of Israel, and protesters repeated one chant that called for a singular Palestinian state without the existence of Israel.

“We don’t want no two-state,” protesters chanted. “Give us back ’48.”

Schaefer, who is leaving Georgetown at the end of the Spring 2024 semester, said his goal in hosting the event was to help Jewish students of all viewpoints grapple with the complexities of the Israel-Hamas war.

“I think a lot of Jewish students are wrestling with the war between Israel and Hamas and what that means, and with Israel’s actions and Hamas’ actions and how to process it,” Schaefer told The Hoya. “I felt like there have been an absence of Israeli voices and perspectives on campus, and I wanted to provide a space for that.”

Schaefer said he would continue to promote Israeli perspectives as long as threats to the state’s existence and antisemitic dialogue persist.

“I long for the day when the burden of creating safe spaces for Israeli people and Israeli voices are no longer a Jewish concern because every person, group and nation recognizes Israel’s right to exist,” Schaefer said at the event.

A Georgetown community member reported a drawing of a swastika in a residence hall in January 2023, and antisemitic pamphlets were found outside several buildings on campus, including the Jewish Living Learning Community, Bayit, in November 2022.

Samantha Yershov (SFS ’25), the president of GIA, said the goal of the event was to spark constructive conversation about the realities Israeli soldiers face.

“The focus was for people to come in with open hearts and open minds to get this perspective of people who are not only from Israel but who understand the realities of compulsory military service, who understand the realities of this conflict for people who have actually seen it with their own eyes, who have lost people to it, who have seen the terrible parts of war,” Yershov said.

All Israelis — male and female alike — have a mandate to serve at least two years in the IDF.


Sofi Dippel/The Hoya | Several hundred Georgetown students and faculty protested the Feb. 27 Campus Ministry event which featured three members of the Israel Defense Force.

Protesters Speak Out, Rally Outside Event


The crowd outside of Hariri chanted continuously throughout the event, calling for a ceasefire and loudly booing the Israeli soldiers.

“We will free Palestine, within our lifetime,” protesters chanted outside. “We want justice, you say how? IOF off campus now.”

Though the organizers of the event referred to the soldiers as being members of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), protesters used the pejorative term Israel Occupation Forces (IOF) in reference to the Israeli military actions. The campaign has included bombing schools and hospitals in Gaza, which half of Americans regard as “going too far,” according to a poll by the Associated Press.

Protest leaders and attendees spoke about the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza, where the death toll has risen to nearly 30,000 since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks in southern Israel that saw Hamas militants kill approximately 1,200 Israelis and kidnap an additional 253.

Ahead of the protests, several student groups also circulated a petition expressing their anger at the IDF event, condemning the university and calling on Campus Ministry to disassociate itself from the Israeli military. As of Feb. 28, over 500 students, faculty, alumni and staff — alongside 26 student organizations from Georgetown and other local universities — signed the petition.

Mark Lance, an organizer with Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (GUFSJP) and a professor of philosophy at Georgetown who attended the protest outside Hariri, said it was hypocritical for Campus Ministry to host the event.

“Any military organization to come in here under the auspices of the Campus Ministry, but especially one that’s committing war crimes, ethnic cleansing, mass murder, it’s mind-boggling, and this could not happen anywhere else,” Lance told The Hoya. 

Schaefer acknowledged students’ rights to peacefully advocate against the event, saying that he and the other coordinators of the discussion had anticipated that pro-Palestinian activists would demonstrate inside the event itself, which was open to the Georgetown community for registration.

“I respect the right of everybody to criticize Israel, the Israeli government, the military and the war,” Schaefer told The Hoya. “The idea of disagreement is baked into the soul of the Jewish people.”

“I stand up and the Jewish community stands up for the right of people to disagree and to express that respectfully,” Schaefer added.

The Hoya observed individuals tearing down posters in Red Square with the faces of Israeli hostages held in Gaza, which violates the Georgetown University Speech and Expression Policy. Individuals bearing an Israeli flag were also seen tearing down posters in Red Square, according to a member of SJP and a photo obtained by The Hoya. While public demonstrations are a protected form of free speech, protesters may not infringe upon the right of an individual to speak freely or an audience to engage with such speech, according to the university’s policy.

Akanksha Sinha (SFS ’23), an organizer with FSJP and Zeytoun, a graduate student and faculty group dedicated to supporting decolonization, and a staff member at the Center for Social Justice Research, Teaching and Service (CSJ), said the student groups accept the tenets of free speech but will continue to protest actions of the university.

Lauren Doherty/The Hoya | The protestors marched to a terrace outside of the Hariri building as the panel with the IDF soldiers began.

“I think the idea is that we have a right to free speech,” Sinha told The Hoya.“Yes, we can all accept that. However, is that something that is always morally correct? Is that always something that we should be using to platform people committing genocide at the time? The right is a right, and at the end of the day, we will express our anger at the way in which this university has abused that right to platform people committing genocide.”

GUPD, Administration Respond

After organizers announced the protest would move from Red Square to outside of Hariri, protest leaders told attendees that only police liaisons, designated students wearing bright pink vests, should engage with police and that protesters should not provoke altercations.

“We do not talk to cops,” protesters chanted at the request of student organizers. “We do not talk to cops.”

Outside Hariri, pro-Palestine marchers directed their chants toward the nearly 10 Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) officers stationed along the perimeter of the protest, comparing them to the IDF and the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a white supremacist terrorist organization.

“GUPD, KKK, IOF, you’re all the same,” protesters chanted.

Earlier, protesters had accused GUPD of violently shoving a student inside the event and threatening to issue student conduct violations.

“A Georgetown student was violently shoved onto the ground,” a protester declared outside the event.

GUPD Chief Katherine Perez said the department had received no reports of such an event as of Feb. 28, and said while officers asked several protesters to leave, they have not filed any official reports regarding student conduct.

“While the majority of protesters acted in accordance with Georgetown’s Speech and Expression Policy, those who received warnings from Georgetown staff members but continued to violate policies were asked to leave,” Perez wrote to The Hoya in a Feb. 28 statement. “At this time, GUPD has made no referrals to Student Conduct related to Tuesday night’s event.”

Lauren Doherty/The Hoya | Protesters affiliated with Georgetown Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Georgetown Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP) continued chanting as Israeli soldiers spoke to an audience of roughly 70 in the Hariri building.

“As of this morning, the University has received no formal reports regarding GUPD interactions on Tuesday night,” Perez added. 

Reflections on Impact, Tensions

Selina Al-Shihabi (SFS ’26), a member of SJP, said she was disgusted at the university’s decision to invite IDF soldiers to campus.

“I’m in so much pain that this community, this place that is meant to serve as my home and that is meant to make me feel safe is inviting soldiers who could have potentially killed my family a couple weeks ago — the soldiers who could have potentially killed the families of so many Georgetown students, who have lost hundreds of family members in this ongoing genocide,” Al-Shihabi said at the protest. 

The soldiers answered questions from the audience on war ethics, accusations of genocide against Israel and their expectations for the war’s future course. They asserted their stance against the violence Hamas perpetuated.

Cherlow, one of the soldiers who spoke at the panel, said he encountered protesters chanting “Free Palestine.”

“I yelled ‘Free Palestine from Hamas.’ This is what I want deeply of my heart,” Cherlow said at the event.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to keep Israeli forces in Gaza until all hostages are returned.

Sinha said the organizers and protesters will not stop until Georgetown takes tangible action through divestment and calls for a ceasefire.

“We understand that this university and this administration do not just hold influence over its current student body,” Sinha told The Hoya. “They hold influence over our alum, over politics in D.C. and beyond, over politics globally. We know this university needs to call for a ceasefire now and commit to a path for divestment. And without that, we will not be stopping.”

Resources: On-campus resources include Health Education Services (202-687-8949) and Counseling and Psychiatric Service (202-687-7080); off-campus resources include Crisis Text Line (text 741741).

This article was updated on March 2 to reflect new information that The Hoya received, indicating that individuals bearing an Israeli flag were seen tearing down posters in Red Square following the protest.

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Catherine Alaimo
Catherine Alaimo, Senior News Editor
Catherine Alaimo is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences from Scottsdale, Ariz., studying psychology with minors in journalism and French. She can perfectly impersonate Anna Delvey from "Inventing Anna." [email protected]
Lauren Doherty
Lauren Doherty, Senior News Editor
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Jack Willis, Executive Editor
Jack Willis is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service from St. Augustine, Fla., studying international politics. He won his middle school spelling bee. [email protected]

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  • E

    Evan MastersMar 13, 2024 at 6:32 pm

    The reality is that the Jewish community is uniquely targeted by pretty much every terrorist organization across the spectrum. And when you look at a group that makes up 2.4 percent, roughly, of the American population, it should be jarring to everyone that that same population accounts for something like 60 percent of all religious hate crimes. It is a shame that a university that is founded on religious equality would tolerate such behavior.

    Amid an increasingly menacing climate, campus leaders have an obligation to be responsive to threats, intimidation, and students’ encounters with antisemitism. They need to ensure that they address students’ concerns through approaches that adhere to laws and campus policies protecting academic freedom and free speech.

    The double standards and hypocrisy is my problem. Universities haven’t demonstrated in the past that they actually consistently protect free speech. If they were consistent and didn’t coddle different groups on their campuses, they would’ve had the high ground.
    I get really annoyed with the hypocrisy in politics and this is one of the biggest hypocrisies on the left. There have been over 125 P St NW incidents of antisemitism reported since the beginning of the Hamas war. I know so many liberal people who claim to be so accepting but have no issue with antisemitism, mocking Christianity, making fun of white people from rural Appalachia, etc. I will never understand how being offensive to some groups is fine.

  • M

    Mark LanceFeb 29, 2024 at 5:17 am

    Georgetown cannot hide behind its free speech policy on this. If the Georgetown Israel Alliance chooses to invite speakers to defend the war crimes and ethnic cleansing, or the whole infrastructure of apartheid and occupation for that matter, that is covered by the policy. It is shameful and worthy of denunciation by anyone of conscience, but their right. But when campus ministry sponsors the event, when the university’s Jewish Chaplain endorses it, things change. First, the content becomes doubly obscene because it is being presented not only as a view worth endorsing, but essential to Jewish life. To say that it is anti-Jewish to denounce war crimes is to repeat the age-old blood libel that it is part of Judaism to murder children. But second, when the administrative head of Jewish life makes such pronouncements, no one can see it as other than an endorsement by the university itself. And that is a level of shame that I did not expect from the university I have worked for for 34 years.