Tensions high after IDF Col. Golan Vach speaks at UD Hillel

Staff Reporter

Staff Reporter

Col. Golan Vach, a member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), spoke at the Kristol Hillel Center for Jewish Life March 6, generating a response in the forms of social media posts and a petition from those who opposed the colonel’s presence.

Vach, a commander of search and rescue for the IDF, was invited to speak about the rescue missions he has led and provide his eyewitness account of the Israel-Hamas war. 

The event drew responses from both Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Graduate Muslim Student Association (Grad-MSA). SJP created a petition to show its opposition to Vach’s appearance, generating over 700 signatures.

“Particularly, he claimed that during the rescue operations in Kibbutz Be’eri, he saw decapitated babies,” the petition read. “He told Israeli media that ‘The baby was decapitated. I carried the baby with my own hands.’”

NBC News reported that Vach said he “found one baby with his head cut” in a call including international journalists. It is unclear whether claims of Hamas decapitating babies are true, as IDF spokespeople have given conflicted answers. 

When recounting the Oct. 7 attack on Israel, Vach shared what he saw when his unit arrived at the music festival grounds near Kibbutz Re’im, a neighborhood in southern Israel near Gaza. He showed pictures of Israeli civilians who were killed in the first attack led by Hamas, saying he and his team collected over 200 bodies at the site.

Current estimates say that over 1,200 Israelis are dead, along with over 30,000 Palestinians. 

Vach shared his views on the war during his speech, while also claiming that Israel took precautions before the war against Hamas began. 

“War is something dirty,” Vach said. “The gray area is most prominent in this war. Most of the war is gray, and you should walk in this narrow path. We did everything we could to prevent this war.”

Macayla Cook/THE REVIEW

Attendees share views on Vach’s presence

“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with someone from the IDF being here,” Tal Assor, a senior neuroscience major and president of the IAC Mishelanu RSO, said. “I’m Israeli, and I have family members in the IDF. I feel like they’re protecting our country, and I want to hear what they have to say.”

The Israeli American Council (IAC) Mishelanu is a nationwide student organization and its RSO at the university co-sponsored the event at Hillel. It is a pro-Israel organization that advocates for the Jewish right to a homeland and to “bring the spirit of Israel to campus.”

Some students in attendance showed their support for Palestine by wearing scarves bearing the Palestinian flag. 

“I did some research on the IDF soldier who’s attending,” Alyssa Brown, a junior health behavior science major, said. “[I] learned about his history, his past of misinformation and just his dehumanizing language, so I thought it would be interesting to hear what he has to say and to see what’s being disseminated to students here.”

Brown said she reached out to the university with her concerns but was told that the administration ultimately had no jurisdiction over the event since the Hillel Center is not on campus. 

“It is a bit frustrating to hear that,” Brown said. “Especially knowing the sentiment that’s being spread about this and everything that can impact the student body, especially Arab and Palestinian students. I think that this can be quite harmful and not the event that students need right now.”

Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt, the campus director of the Hillel Center and an organizer of this event, was appreciative of Vach and what he had to say.

“It was an opportunity to hear from someone who is on the front lines, who has been an eyewitness to a situation, and to be able to share with the Hillel community and the wider community about his perspective, especially as someone whose job is to save lives,” Weisblatt said.

He said that he respects Vach’s opinions and was happy to have created an environment for discussion and a forum for people to ask difficult questions to someone on the Israeli side. 

When addressing the controversy surrounding the event, Weisblatt emphasized the importance of maintaining an open dialogue.

“I do think freedom of speech means we need to be able to speak with people and listen to people we disagree with,” Weisblatt said. “How can we grow as human beings if we don’t have those moments of tension … How else do we grow? I think dialogue is incredibly important.”

Not all students, however, were interested in opening a dialogue.

“I’ve come to show that this, the speaker, isn’t representative of the interest of students at the University of Delaware by and large,” Alan Parkes, a graduate student pursuing a Ph.D. in history, said. “I also don’t think that I’m here because I want to engage in dialogue. I think that’s important to say.

“I don’t think doing that is good because it suggests that there’s legitimacy behind the speaker and what he’s saying, and I don’t even think that he deserves to have that,” Parkes said.

Parkes was echoing a sentiment shared by the Grad-MSA in an Instagram post, which stated that the “IDF has already caused the mass displacement, imprisonment, and murder of millions of innocent Palestinians, many of whom are members of the UD community.”

The post also said that Grad-MSA was “extremely disturbed and outraged” by Vach’s presence, citing his claims about Hamas beheading babies as a reason for a spike in hate crimes against Palestinians worldwide.

“We have already seen the cases of the innocent six-year-old Palestinian boy stabbed to death and the three Palestinian university students who were shot because of these hateful stereotypes,” the statement read. “This University has chosen to hide behind the excuse of ‘free speech’ to protect an event that has the potential to increase Islamophobic attacks on campus.”

Vach stated that the suffering of Palestinians is not comparable to the suffering of Israelis.

“There are people who suffered,” Vach said during his presentation. “But I cannot refer to both sides in the same sentence. There is one side that unjustifiably attacked us. These families belong to Hamas. I believe that there are many families that do not support Hamas [but] they are part of an entity that is ruled by Hamas. This is all that I have to say.”

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