Controversial conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro harshly criticized the Palestinian militant group Hamas and said anyone who disagrees with him is a “Jew hater” during a campus event Wednesday night at the University of Florida.
“If you support Hamas, you are a Jew hater,” Shapiro said during his appearance at the UF Phillips Center. “Hamas ought to be destroyed, it’s that simple.”
Shapiro, known for his catchphrase “fact don’t care about your feelings,” noted throughout his speech that “Hamas needed to die” and took jabs at groups such as the Black Lives Matter movement and members of Congress who he said supported Hamas, calling them “Jew haters.” He did not identify which lawmakers he was referring to.
“The goal of Hamas is clear – genocide against the Jews,” Shapiro said. “Not just genocide against Jews in Israel, genocide against Jews everywhere.”
Shapiro told the audience the violence against Israel was the “single worst attack on Jews since the Holocaust.”
“It was something I never thought I would see in my lifetime, ” he said. “My parents never thought they would see it in their lifetime – full-scale genocidal massacre of Jewish civilians, men, women, babies, and they burned the children alive.”
Students at the forum challenged Shapiro about his views on the conflict between Israel and Hamas and criticized previous comments he made toward transgender youth.
Outside the Phillips Center after the event, some attendees circled a group of about 15 protestors, who were chanting, “Ben Shapiro is a flop.” Counter-protesters retaliated by yelling “USA” and shouting a derogatory phrase about President Joe Biden.
A UF student, Jay Ferreira-Sa, 19, of Gainesville, complained that Shapiro spreads hateful and bigoted speech. Ferreira-Sa designed one of the protest signs that said, “hatred and bigotry don’t mix.” He said attendees began to yell anti-gay slurs during the protest.
“I feel like fueling that bigotry by inviting someone so hateful and close-minded to come over just adds to that fire,” Ferreira-Sa said.
The UF appearance was the latest visit to university campuses by Shapiro, 39, who is cofounder of the Daily Wire conservative news outlet. Shapiro frequently promotes recorded excerpts of himself debating progressively minded college students on culture war topics that include racism, diversity, gender issues and LGBTQ rights, among other topics.
The timing of the visit was particularly noteworthy because Shapiro is an ardent supporter of Israel, which was attacked by the armed Palestinian group Hamas in waves of violence that killed 1,300 Israelis. Its military’s response has included widespread bombing in the Gaza Strip that has killed more than 3,400 Palestinians and reduced large areas of territory to rubble.
UF has the largest number of Jewish students of any public university in the U.S.
UF’s president, former Republican U.S. Sen. Ben Sasse, has drawn national attention for the intensity of his public support for Israel.
In a statement after the attacks, Sasse wrote, “Sadly, too many people in elite academia have been so weakened by their moral confusion that, when they see videos or raped women, hear of a beheaded baby, or learn of a grandmother murdered in her home, the first reaction of some is to ‘provide context’ and try to blame [victims].” He called such behavior “beneath people called to educate our next generation of Americans.”
“We’re going to do two things at Florida,” Sasse said on Fox News on Sunday. “We’re going to protect our Jewish students and we’re going to protect speech.”
Shapiro commended Sasse during his speech Wednesday, calling Sasse the “best university president in all of America.”
Speakers like Shapiro may become more common on Florida college and university campuses in the future. Under a new Florida law that Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed in May, each university must establish a new events office to organize, publicize and stage debates or forums to ensure what the bill described as “a wide range of perspectives on diverse issues critical to the public discourse.” The effort by Florida’s GOP-controlled Legislature has been widely understood to mean bringing more politically conservative speakers to campuses, which often lean progressive and Democratic.
The local chapter of the conservative student group Young Americans for Freedom invited Shapiro to speak on campus. He was paid $5,000 from student government funds for his appearance, far lower than some celebrities and influencers who have performed at UF in recent years. Another $5,000 was spent on rental and equipment fees related to Shapiro’s visit, plus $500 for flyers promoting his appearance.
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