Raskin Speech at University of Maryland Disrupted by Protesters

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin’s planned lecture on democracy Thursday at the University of Maryland instead turned into a lively discussion on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Raskin was invited to give the Irving and Renee Milchberg Endowed Lecture and his intended subject was “Democracy, Autocracy and the Threat to Reason in the 21st Century.”

“Progress in history requires not just reasoning, which is certainly necessary, but it’s not sufficient, because it also requires the addition of the pro-social emotions, as the psychologists call it, of solidarity, empathy, love and the political virtues of justice and equality and freedom,” Raskin said at the start of his speech.

His remarks were interrupted just a few minutes later by pro-Palestinian protesters shouting that Raskin is was “complicit in genocide.” In response, Raskin said that he wished the protesters had engaged in a conversation with him, rather than “heckling.”

Raskin emphasized that he has taken a strong position on returning the hostages held by Hamas, has advocated a military ceasefire, and has championed a two-state solution. As he attempted to continue his lecture, protesters continued interrupting and shouting. Various protesters questioned Raskin’s actions since the Hamas-led attack on Israel on Oct. 7.

“We need a new peace movement too, if you are the representatives of it,” Raskin said. “Because you’re not engaging in real dialogue with people and you’re not convincing anybody.”

Protesters supporting Israel and those backing Palestine from both sides continued heckling and arguing with each other, making it impossible for Raskin to continue. He then abandoned the speech and said he was open to taking questions from the audience, leading to more discourse among protesters.

“It’s very tough to solve problems in the Middle East here at the University of Maryland in the physics department,” Raskin said.

Darryll Pines, the president of the university, later stepped in and terminated the lecture early.

“He came here to speak about where our democracy is going in our country,” Pines told Capital News Service. “What you saw play out actually was democracy and free speech and academic freedom. From our perspective as a university, there are the difficult conversations that we should be having.”

Pines added that he wished, however, that the protesters had been more civil. He also praised Raskin’s patience and empathy when responding to the protesters’ comments and questions.

“I wanted to make a plea for constitutional patriotism in defense of democracy and freedom around the world,” Raskin told CNS about his original speech. “Their sentiments were perfectly consistent with a lot of what I had to say.”

“I’m not really opposed to heckling,” the congressman added. “But it seems like heckling today is all about drowning out the speaker, and that’s totally antithetical to the spirit of free expression.”

Howard Milchberg, University of Maryland professor of physics and electrical and computer engineering, along with his wife Rena Milchberg and their three children, started the lecture in 2019. It celebrates the memory of Howard Milchberg’s late parents, who survived the Holocaust.

“It didn’t go as planned, but it maybe turned out better than normal,” Howard Milchberg told CNS. “It was an actual exercise of democracy rather than a story about democracy.”

Photo: Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin (at the podium) attempts to give a lecture at the University of Maryland Thursday but is interrupted by people protesting Israel’s military action in Gaza. University President Darryll Pines intervenes here after Raskin was unable to give his prepared remarks. (Yesenia Montenegro/Capital News Service)

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