Over 10 people gathered at Clark Hall Thursday night to protest and disrupt an event hosted by the Brody Jewish Center and Hoos for Israel. University Police Department officers responded to the group gathering and sounds of shouting, and received a report that an assault occurred prior to their arrival. The UPD is continuing to investigate the incident, the department’s Crime Prevention Coordinator Benjamin Rexrode told The Cavalier Daily in an email.
Though the event — a panel of Israeli Defense Force reservists entitled “Building Bridges” — was hosted by the Brody Center, it was not necessarily religious in nature, according to Talia Sion, a fourth-year Nursing student and chair of the Jewish Leadership Council.
“[The event was] an event to promote conversation and respectful dialogue between students of different religious and political backgrounds,” Sion said. “The event was not organized purely by Jewish students nor aimed for just Jewish attendees.”
The protesters entered the event in Clark Hall and began chanting pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel mantras while holding similarly-natured posters. One poster read, “Anti-colonial, not anti-semitic, solidarity with Palestine.”
Rabbi Jake Rubin, executive director of the Brody Jewish Center, was present at the event and released a statement in response to the incident. He said that he and student leaders invited the protesters to participate in the program and share their concerns through conversations, but the protesters declined the offer and continued to disrupt the panel.
“While free speech and the ability to protest are important aspects of college life, we are disappointed that protesters refused to engage in conversation and instead continued to shout intimidating and hostile slurs directed at students, staff, and panelists,” Rubin’s statement read. “U.Va. is and has always been a place for the free exchange of ideas, learning from opposing views, and open dialogue.”
Ben Borenstein, a second-year College student and active member of the Brody Center, attended the Building Bridges event. He said the protesters had a megaphone and brought literature to distribute about the history of Israeli-Palestinian relations.
“I felt very threatened,” Borenstein said. “It was probably the most afraid that I’ve been in a situation at U.Va. because it was such a small classroom and it was so loud … it was very antagonistic and almost militant.”
In a university-wide email, Dean of Students Allen Groves noted that the protestors may have violated , including those on protests and amplified sounds. The University Police Department eventually responded to the noise and the demonstrators independently moved outside. Borenstein said that, even after the group had moved outdoors, they continued to use their megaphone to disrupt the speakers.
It’s currently unclear if any particular organizations were involved with the protest.
Several minutes after the protesters left the event, three UPD vehicles arrived on the scene. Three officers questioned students at the scene and the protesters were disbanded by UPD personnel. The demonstration ended peacefully, although UPD continued to monitoring the area afterward.