Sergeant Benjamin Anthony, a reservist in the Israeli Defense Forces, wore a sharp, gray suit when he took the podium Monday, but spoke with the booming and authoritative voice of a soldier as he discussed his experiences on and off the frontline.
Anthony, founder of Our Soldiers Speak, made it clear from the start that he was not just a speaker.
“I’m here as one soldier speaking of my experiences in uniform,” Anthony said.
He told the audience of more than 70 students about a traumatic childhood experience where he and his brothers were attacked for being Jewish.
“These thugs left home that day with the intention to remove a Jew from this Earth,” Anthony said.
The attack left Anthony and his eldest brother severely injured, and his two youngest brothers traumatized. He related this experience to his belief that Israel is the only place in the world where he can feel safe because he is Jewish, and not in spite of it.
“We are totally free, but it does not come without cost, not without a sacrifice,” Anthony said. “And as a citizen soldier, I know about that cost.”
Anthony, a heavy machine gunner, said that the choices soldiers make on the frontline are black and white, and that their opinions and beliefs no longer matter.
“You stand fast and the people behind you live, or you fail and some of those people die,” Anthony said.
He discussed various Israeli conflicts, including Operation Pillar of Defense. Anthony considered the situation ironic.
“Today, rockets can fall on Jerusalem, a city these terrorists say they love,” Anthony said.
While Anthony was speaking, protesters entered the event, chanting “We will never support apartheid!” Anthony instructed attendants to ignore them, and they were quickly removed by police security.
Following the interruption, Anthony continued, saying that there is a good reason to fight.
“In this world — there are some things that are worth dying for,” Anthony said. “Typically, they are the same things worth living for.”
Although not everyone has the opportunity to fight, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a responsibility toward Israel, according to Anthony.
“If you’re not going to die for Israel, you better live for Israel,” Anthony said.
One student asked what Anthony thinks is the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He didn’t have an answer.
“I don’t know the solution, but I’m fortunate that I am not a politician,” Anthony said.
Anthony’s talk was hosted by the Binghamton University Zionist Organization (BUZO) and the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). Lucy Schwartz, education chair of BUZO and CAMERA fellow, said she wished there was a more productive discussion with the hecklers.
“I wish they had asked questions instead of yelling,” Schwartz said. “It would be wonderful to have a peaceful discussion.”
She said the talk was a huge success.
“The event went beautifully, people were captivated the whole time,” Schwartz said.
Jasmine Patihi, president of BUZO, said Anthony was a great speaker.
“I think it went really well, Benjamin was very deliberate and articulate,” said Patihi, a senior double-majoring in Judaic studies and politics, philosophy and law.
Dorothy Manevich, a junior double-majoring in history and political science, found Anthony’s story touching.
“As someone who is a Jewish-American, I don’t really identify as a Zionist, but he pulled on some heartstrings,” Manevich said.