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For Israeli who faced violence in Berkeley, Wyoming is ‘friendly and polite’

In the past weeks, Israelis have toured the US, sharing firsthand testimony of their experiences on Oct. 7 and over the past five months. One of those Israelis, Ran Bar-Yoshafat, may end up continuing his speaking tour when he returns to Israel. Only this time, instead of sharing his experiences of living in Israel, he’ll be recounting his experience from his American tour.

A Stand in Solidarity with Israel gathering at the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne, March 7, 2024.

A Stand in Solidarity with Israel gathering at the Wyoming State Capitol in Cheyenne, March 7, 2024.

Bar-Yoshafat, who spoke at a Solidarity with Israel event today, March 7, in Cheyenne outside of the Wyoming State Capitol, has had an eventful 10 days. The IDF soldier who is on a speaking tour of the US sharing his experiences of serving in Gaza, was scheduled to speak at UC Berkeley last week on Feb. 26. Instead, he found himself being escorted off campus through a basement exit when protestors shut down his talk using a mix of physical and verbal assault.

Bar-Yoshafat says he is “very saddened” by what he saw at UC Berkeley. For him, what he witnessed is an affront on the values of a liberal society. There’s the issue of impeding free speech, preventing him from speaking but also preventing people from listening. He — and those who wish to attend his talk — are presumed guilty, but not only that, he says. “They say I’m guilty and that I don’t deserve a trial. It’s anti-American. If they do this to Israelis or Jews . . . ” his voice trails off, the silence implying that other groups may become targets.

His experience in Cheyenne, which was facilitated by Chabad of Wyoming, was very different he says. There was a small group of protestors, which Bar-Yoshafat doesn’t shy away from. “They can ask tough questions,” he says, but was disturbed by what he calls a “sad” reality when people “aren’t trying to seek the truth.” For example: A protestor in Cheyenne decrying genocide (Bar-Yoshafat wonders if she know that Hamas has threatened a Jewish genocide) told him there is no evidence of sexual assault by Hamas on Oct. 7. Bar-Yoshafat asked her: What evidence would convince you? The answer: I don’t need to see your evidence. I have my sources that I rely on.

But in contrast to Berkeley, even the protestors in Wyoming were polite he says, and overall people were friendly. The feeling he got, he says, “is that the general public is very supportive of Israel.”

Among the speakers at the gathering were Rabbi Zalman Mendelsohn of Chabad of Wyoming, Dave Lerner of Mt. Sinai Congregation, several pastors and a number of Wyoming state lawmakers.

Admittedly, after Berkeley, the bar for civility wasn’t high. On that campus, ironically the home of the 1964 Free Speech movement, the 10 students who managed to enter the hall where Bar-Yoshafat was scheduled to speak, were spat on and “you Jew” was yelled at them when all they sought to do was listen to a lecture, Bar-Yoshafat says.

They were targets, he says, “because they’re Jewish. Their crime is that they’re willing to listen.

“I’m not that famous and interesting,” says Bar-Yoshafat. “I’m a low ranking officer.” But that he served in the Israel Defense Forces and is there to talk from an Israeli perspective is enough to put a target on his back — and on the backs of those interested in what he has to say.

He despairs for freedom of speech in America as he describes a violent mob and calls the anti-Israel activists at Berkeley “not protestors but rioters,” who caused physical damage to he university’s property. “They broke a window” of the playhouse, he says. “I listen to a lot of opinions I don’t like . . . but they’re not allowed to strangle a student,” referring to a female student who said she was choked by an anti-Israel activist.

He calls UC Berkeley’s response “a disgrace.”

“They handled it extremely poorly,” he says. He criticizes them for not providing the proper security and says he only received an apology from the university this week.

None of this puts Bar-Yoshafat, who says he’s done a lot of work in Israel advocacy, off. And he says he’s proud of those 10 Jewish students at UC Berkeley, and the other 50 who planned to attend but were prevented from entering the campus’ Zellerbach Playhouse.

In the face of what he calls mob violence, and covered faces that were “intimidating,” the Jewish students “were shocked but not scared,” he says.

Like other campuses across the country, including in Colorado at CU Boulder and DU, UC Berkeley has been the site of rising anti-Zionist activity since Oct. 7. Late last year, j. weekly reported, the US Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights opened an investigation into an attempt by a student group to make forbidding Zionist speakers a bylaw.

Although Bar-Yoshafat’s speaking tour of Israel about his speaking tour of America is said in jest, the Israeli attorney has gained insight into some of the challenges facing Diaspora Jewry. He says while Israelis are very empathetic to what Jews across the world are experiencing, they are only starting to understand it. More than anything, he says, they are confused as to how people can support Hamas. “But they don’t understand the pressure that Jewish students are under,” he says.

Bar-Yoshafat may have been joking, but as Israeli and Diaspora Jewry continue to navigate increasingly troubled waters, when the Israeli attorney returns home after stops in Boston, Florida and Maryland, he may well find himself on a speaking tour about the speaking tour. After the week he’s had, he certainly has unique experiences and insights to share.

Copyright © 2024 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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