Ben Shapiro talks Israel-Hamas conflict at UF

Controversial conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro criticized Hamas at a University of Florida campus event Wednesday night.

Students gathered at the University of Florida Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts to listen to him talk about the Israel-Hamas conflict and for the opportunity to ask him questions.

He harshly criticized the Palestinian militant group and said, “ If you support Hamas, you are a Jew hater.” 

But, students had mixed feelings on if Shapiro should have been allowed to speak at the university in the first place.

Shapiro, known for his controversial political commentary, is the editor emeritus of The Daily Wire. He’s appeared nationwide at different universities through Young America’s Foundation (YAF), an organization to increase awareness of conservative and religious topics. 

Young America’s Foundation allocated $10,500 to host Shapiro at the University of Florida. It was the first time he had appeared at the school since 2017. 

“I do not approve,” said UF student Athena Chlapowski. “I don’t think it’s appropriate for an academic institution to invite speakers purely based on politics.”

She said despite having an intriguing history as a lawyer and author, Shapiro’s current increase in popularity is solely attributable to his outrageous political commentary, which has no place on the UF campus. 

However, amidst differing opinions on the matter, some students were eager to hear the speaker’s perspective. 

“I think it was an excellent idea [to have Shapiro come speak],” said Palm Beach State student Ethan Tallerie. “Although his mindset is mostly right [wing], it is still important to view both sides of the political spectrum.”

Tallerie expects to transfer to UF in the Spring. He found it “reassuring” that the university permitted students to voice their opinions and execute free speech. 

“Being Jewish myself, I think it’s good to have speakers of different religions that can help represent students, definitely during this time,” he said.

The UF boasts the highest number of Jewish students among all public universities nationwide. The 6,500 Jewish undergraduate students constitute about 19% of the university’s undergraduate population.

Against this backdrop, the campus community is linked to the continuing struggle in the Gaza Strip between the Israeli government and Hamas. 

The conflict between the government of Israel and Hamas broke out earlier this month. Israel was caught off guard when Hamas hurled missile strikes and attacks on Israeli cities. 

In response, Israel retaliated and ordered a declaration of war, prompting constant firing back and forth. A million Palestinian people had to evacuate from northern Gaza, fearing an impending ground invasion. 

Blockades were also put up in the Gaza Strip, causing both gas and water shortages. Likewise, cross-border attacks began in Lebanon and Syria, prompting even more concern about future regional conflicts.

Shapiro, a conservative Jewish figure, spoke out against Hamas and their actions. 

“The goal of Hamas is clear – genocide against the Jews,” he said.

Shapiro argued that the actions against the Jewish population in Israel also extend globally. 

Around the midpoint of his speech, Shapiro invited students to form a queue and ask him questions on the spot.

The first student asked if the school administration could take action in response to pro-Hamas students without impeding their First Amendment rights. 

“Anyone that is not a citizen of the United States and supports Hamas should immediately be deported,” Shapiro said in response. 

Another student challenged Shapiro by highlighting the growing concerns around Israel’s 24-hour evacuation notice for Gaza’s two million residents. 

Shapiro replied by claiming that Hamas is actively killing combatants and using apartments in the Gaza Strip as cover for shooting off artillery toward Israel. 

“If Hamas thought that Israel was simply going to target civilians – and they wanted to save their civilians – theoretically would not put their rockets in f***ing apartment buildings,” he said.  

Shapiro also criticized the idea that Israel is not worried about civilian casualties. He said Israel is taking measures to minimize civilian casualties by alerting the Hamas members to anticipate strikes and for their civilians to be evacuated. 

Shapiro’s university tour in the state of Florida is not over yet. He will speak at the University of Central Florida on Oct. 25. 

Featured image: Ben Shapiro at the University of Florida (The Alligator / April 3, 2017)