While the four professorial talks were delivered and received quietly, interrupted only occasionally by applause, emotions escalated during the closing question-and-answer session.
Most of the questioners were adults, well beyond student age, and their softball questions about control of Washington by the Jewish lobby and how to divest from Israel were easily fielded by the speakers.
The mood changed when a few pro-Israel attendees got their chance, according to audience members. When Eric Golub asked Hajjar whether she would consider as prosecutable crimes Hamas’ murder of Fatah rivals, the use of civilians as human shields and recruitment of suicide bombers, the professor responded, “If you think I favor suicide bombings, then you have that Zionist hat on your head screwed on way too tight.”
Hajjar later retracted her comment, but her initial response was met by audience cheers and chants of “Zionism is racism,” “Zionism is Nazism,” “Free, Free Palestine” and “F…, f… Israel.”
Although there were no threats of violence and a policeman was at hand, when the meeting concluded, some members of the audience engaged pro-Israel students with further cries of “f… you.”
Shirley Eshaghian, a psychology senior and president of Bruins for Israel, said she left the symposium shaken.
“I never felt so unsafe on campus,” she said. “People were shouting, and I had this horrible feeling that I, as a Jew, was being attacked; that I was being called a Nazi.”
Dana Sadgat, an 18-year-old freshman in computer science, said she was also deeply upset. “This was not put on by a bunch of kids; this was run by an academic department at UCLA,” she said. “There was no speaker there for Israel; there wasn’t even one who was not against Israel. But this experience has made me even more pro-Israel.”
The two students agreed with other attendees that at no point did Slyomovics, the organizer and moderator of the event, try to intervene or urge the audience to observe a basic level of decorum.
A faculty defense of the “august academic figures” says, “Simply because some in the audience (from all perspectives) were out of line in some groups’ sloganeering, the problems should not reflect on the excellent symposium itself.”