Members of Students for Quality Education protest Zionist speaker


Neil Lazarus visited Chico State, invited by Chico Hillel, a Jewish organization on campus. Photo credit: Kimberly Morales

On Tuesday, students from the Comparative Religion and Humanities department announced the visit of leading middle-eastern keynote speaker, Neil Lazarus.

While Lazarus arrived at Chico to discuss the situation in the Middle East –specifically the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — respectfully and constructively, other students did not want Lazarus on campus.

Neil Lazarus held his keynote presentation, “Behind the Headlines.” Photo credit: Kimberly Morales

The most pressing issue for students who disapproved of the meeting on campus centered on the movement that the speaker and other spectators identified with, known as “Zionism.”

The religious and political movement that began in the 19th century was defined as, “the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

Posters were not allowed outside the door. Protesters were told that if they were to continue to demonstrate, they would have to take it outside of the BMU Photo credit: Kimberly Morales

Why Zionism has become controversial throughout history is through violent and deathly land desputes. Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs both want Israel, erupting in war.

“I was invited to come here. I think it’s good that we have these conversations. I believe in talking to people,” Lazarus said when asked why his message was important to the students at Chico State.

The event, hosted by Chico Hillel, a Jewish student union on campus, was sponsored by Hillel International, Zionist Organization of America and Associated Students.

Before the forum began, protestors stood near the building holding signs and political literature.

Shortly, they were asked to leave the building and continue their protest outside.

“The BMU is not a free speech area. Free speech is for everybody but there is a time and place for it,” Sharleen Lowry Krater, Assistant Director of AS Programs and Government Affairs, said.

As doors opened, Chico Hillel has guests sign an agreement ensuring that they would be respectful to all opinions at the event as well as waive the right and permission for Chico Hillel to use photographs and videos taken during the event as how they see fit.

“We can disagree and still love each other—unless your disagreement is rude and oppression, and in denial of my right of existence,” a representative from Chico Hillel said. “I have had the pleasure of already starting this conversation with a number of students in this room and we have come to the understanding that although I and Neil, are zionists, we are not Anti-Palestinian, we are pro-peace and we are pro-Isreal.”

“I wanted to see what the zionist side had to say about the conflict. I knew it was going to be one sided,” George Naser, who attended the event, said. “He presented the Zionist side. He presented Zionism and their goals with a good face on the Zionist goals and what Israel is doing. There are two sides to the issue. He showed a whole map of the middle east, he showed it as a small country with a lot of enemies, but Israel is dangerous itself, with war and weaponry.”

Students at the event from organization Students for Quality Education vocally expressed their disdain at the speaker. After Lazarus opened the presentation up for questions, students opened up and pressed Lazarus.

While the question period was prioritized to the students in the audience, others in attendance did not appreciate the manner that students confronted Lazarus.

“Let him speak! Respect your elders,” were among the audiences’ reactions.

“I was told that this was going to be a town hall discussion, seeing both sides, and it’s not. It’s just been you talking the whole time,” said a student in the audience who left the forum early, in protest of the discussion, “Free Palestine!” they and other students shouted as they left the room.

Kimberly Morales can be reached at [email protected] or @kimberlymnews on Twitter.