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Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Students Protest as IDF Soldier Speaks on Gaza, Campus Dialogue

Catherine Alaimo and Jack Willis / The Hoya | Rudy Rochman, the fourth Israeli soldier to speak at Georgetown this semester, condemned antisemitism and called for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence amid protests inside and outside of the event.

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.

A soldier from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) condemned antisemitism and advocated for Israeli-Palestinian coexistence at a March 21 event that a Zionist student group hosted at the Georgetown University Law Center (GULC), sparking protests from pro-Palestine organizations.

Georgetown Law Zionists hosted the event, formally titled “The Intersections of Judaism and Zionism,” which profiled Rudy Rochman, an IDF reservist deployed to Gaza, and drew pushback from Georgetown chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), who cited the 30,000 Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in Gaza. Rochman, an American-raised paratrooper who also served in the IDF from 2011 to 2013 and regularly presents at college campuses about his experiences, is the fourth Israeli soldier to speak at Georgetown in the past month, each being met with backlash.

Rochman said his unit entered devastated kibbutzim, small Israeli communities, following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks — the deadliest assault on Jews since the Holocaust. He said witnessing the wake of this destruction compelled him to reflect on the history of Israel as a state and to continue speaking publicly about his perspective.

“The majority of Jews in Israel view this land as our ancient civilization and our indigenous land that belongs to our ancestors and descendants, and it cannot be cut up. And Palestinians view the land the same way,” Rochman said at the event. 

“The idea of Zionism, the idea of Jews returning back to their land, doesn’t have to mean kicking out other people and doesn’t have to do with any other population,” he added.

Some experts say the idea of a binational Israeli-Palestinian state appears generally unfeasible for several reasons, including differences in public perception and divergent outlooks on rightful land ownership.

Catherine Alaimo / The Hoya | Protestors at an event hosted by the Georgetown Law Zionists that featured Rudy Rochman, an IDF soldier and activist.

Approximately five minutes into Rochman’s remarks, 11 protestors affiliated with Georgetown Law Students for Justice in Palestine (LSJP) congregated in an aisle on the side of the room, holding signs reading “IDF Off Campus.” Two attendees bearing pro-Israel paraphernalia, including Israeli flags, subsequently placed themselves among the group of protestors.

Around 17 minutes into the event, as Rochman described his time founding a group focused on empowering Jewish students during his time as a student at Columbia University, the pro-Palestinian protestors all walked out of the event — a move the audience met with applause.

Josh Galst (LAW ’24), a Jewish activist at the protest with the pro-Palestine graduate group Georgetown Jewish Students for Justice, said the perilous state of Gaza, which is on the brink of famine, compels him not to conflate Judaism with supporting Israel.

“There are certain perceptions in the Jewish community about what Israel is, what it represents, what it should represent,” Galst told The Hoya. “I think there is a cultural narrative that, ‘The only thing that keeps us safe is the existence of Israel. Without Israel we would have nowhere to be, nowhere to go and nowhere to exist as a people.’” 

“I think that’s a pretty dangerous and egregious position for people to be holding, especially people who exist in a university space here where they are surrounded by other Jewish people that are existing and living free as Jewish people,” Galst added.

Jack Willis / The Hoya | As Rochman spoke inside the event at Georgetown Law, protestors outside called for a ceasefire in Gaza and university divestment from companies with ties to Israel.

With chants and speeches that could be heard inside the event, student protestors outside called for a permanent ceasefire, the end of GULC study abroad programs in Israel and university divestment from Israeli companies.

“Let Gaza live!” protestors chanted. “Israel, Israel, you can’t hide. You’re committing genocide.”

Rochman said protestors declined his invitation to engage in dialogue and to ask him questions, which he said reflects a culture on college campuses that promotes division over discourse.

“There is no future where Israelis or Palestinians disappear,” Rochman said at the event. “So as long as you’re pushing an agenda of you need to be anti-one and over the other, you’re actually anti-both because the conflict will only continue to cycle,” Rochman said at the event.

Members of LSJP said that Georgetown Law Zionists’ decision to invite a member of the IDF fosters an unsafe campus environment for Palestinian students by minimizing their loss and perpetuating the IDF’s dehumanization of them. 

“Many of our Palestinian students have had family members whose lives have been lost from the actions of the IDF. To invite a member of this group to campus and praise him as a hero diminishes the loss felt by these students,” members of LSJP wrote in a joint statement to The Hoya.

“Adding his voice to the campus environment also emboldens others in normalizing genocide as just another military operation,” the members added. 

Catherine Alaimo / The Hoya | Julia Wax Vanderwiel (LAW ’26), the event organizer and president of the Georgetown Law Zionists, said she felt Rochman’s message was important amid rising antisemitism, in particular on college campuses.

Julia Wax Vanderwiel (LAW ’26), the president of the Georgetown Law Zionists and organizer of the event, said she sought to offer a perspective not offered elsewhere on campus as many pro-Israel and Jewish students feel unsafe expressing their views.

“The amount of people that I had come up to me about this event saying, ‘Should I bring a disguise if I come?’ The amount of people who have taken off their Star of Davids in the hallways here is astounding,” Vanderwiel told The Hoya.

“We’re open to disagreement,” she added. “We’re open to political debate and challenging discussion, and I think bringing him here symbolizes that.”

The Georgetown Law chapter of SJP and Jewish Students for Justice, two graduate student groups, circulated a statement addressed to William Treanor, the dean of GULC, on March 18 denouncing the Georgetown Law Zionists’ decision to host Rochman.

Merrie Leininger, the director of media relations at GULC, said the law center had no role in inviting Rochman or hosting the event.

“The student organizers have the right to invite anyone they wish, consistent with the university’s published speech and expression policies,” Leininger wrote to The Hoya. “As with all student organization events in which we play no direct sponsorship role, the choice of speaker or their remarks does not reflect or constitute university endorsement.”

Citing a ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ), a judicial entity of the United Nations, that Israel is plausibly committing genocide, LSJP and Jewish Students for Justice said Rochman could have perpetuated war crimes against civilians during his deployment in the Gazan city of Khan Younis.

“Although we cannot tell for certain what actions Mr. Rochman engaged in, his proximity to these crimes make it likely that he contributed to the war crimes and genocide in Gaza,” the groups wrote in their statement.

In a response letter, Rochman asserted he has never killed anyone and called for Israeli and Palestinian cohabitation in Gaza.

“I saw the horrors of what Hamas did to countless civilians on Oct 7 and I also saw the destruction and suffering Palestinians face in Gaza,” Rochman wrote.

“As an individual, I believe and push for a future one civilization solution where there is equal rights for all from the river to the sea and the right of return for Israelis (all Tribes) and Palestinians to the Land,” he added.

Members of LSJP said Rochman’s personal reflections detract from the point of the protest — they feel platforming a member of the IDF means normalizing a military campaign they view as genocidal.

Whether or not Rochman himself had any direct hand in these, he willingly was part of the force that has committed and continues to commit genocide,” LSJP members wrote. “The lives of our Palestinian brothers and sisters are not up for discussion.”

Vanderwiel said she acknowledges the individuals’ right to protest, noting that protesters’ nondisruptive actions could draw university attention to the need for dialogue.

“I think actually having them here can prove to administrators that this is a very complicated issue and a very complicated topic that needs heavy debate because they all left without a single one of them staying to ask questions,” Vanderwiel said.

Vanderwiel said that while she appreciates the efforts university administrators have taken to protect free speech, she feels they should explore options for conversations between students of different opinions.

“I think open political discussion and open challenging discussion are necessary if we want to take a step forward,” Vanderwiel said. “We need to meet with our Palestinian brothers and sisters, we need to meet with those individuals who might disagree with us to try and come to some sort of agreement.”

“I don’t know if the university is ready for it because it’s not just them — they have to get the students to agree to it as well,” she added.

Members of LSJP said that as Israel fails to heed calls for a ceasefire, they do not plan to engage in the debates proposed by Rochman.

There can be no talk of a future for both Palestinians and Israelis together until the genocide is stopped,” the members wrote.

Galst said that he feels Georgetown students should prioritize activism and keep in mind that the continued threat of the Israeli military presence in Gaza is contributing to an increasingly dire environment.

“Every day, Israel gets closer and closer to invading Rafah, the last kind of remaining ‘safe point’ in Gaza,” Galst said. “With that eventuality, the Palestinian people are continually at risk of starvation, famine, disease, all while Israel is severely restricting the amount of aid that can reach Palestinian people.”

Asked by an audience member about his message to Jewish students, Rochman said they must focus on their shared identity to counteract antisemitism.

“What we learn when we look at the 4,000 years of Jewish history is that whenever the Jewish people are united, empowered and fulfilling our purpose, we overcome all the greatest struggles that we ever gone through,” Rochman said.

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About the Contributors
Jack Willis
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]
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]

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