Charlotte Korchak, an educator from StandWithUs, speaks at a Friends of Israel event on April 1, 2024, in Whitaker Lab. She spent the last 30 minutes of her lecture answering questions from attendees. (Courtesy of Amanda Braverman)

Friends of Israel event sparks tension


A lecturer invited by Lehigh Friends of Israel evoked debate on the Israel-Palestine conflict among attendees, leading to an escalation of tension in Whitaker Lab. 

The event began at 4:30 p.m. April 1 and lasted until 6:30, when everyone was ushered out by LUPD, as the speaker was scheduled to speak at another school. 

Jason Schiffer, Lehigh University Police Chief, said the Lehigh Friends of Israel club requested LUPD presence when the event was organized, and two officers were assigned to attend.

The event speaker, Charlotte Korchak, is an international senior educator from StandWithUS, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people about Israel. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Middle Eastern studies from the University of Southern California.

Amanda Braverman, ‘24, president of Lehigh Friends of Israel, said the goal was to educate students on the history of the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

“It’s a very complicated and complex history that a lot of times people like to boil down to simplify, but when you simplify it too much, you misinterpret or miss really key moments in history,” Braverman said. 

The Student Political Action Coalition hosted a speaker event last week to also discuss the history of conflict in the region. Speakers included Allison Mickel, an anthropology professor at Lehigh; Faramz Farbod, a political science professor at Moravian University; and Ian Listick, chair of the Political Science Department at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Ciaran Buitrago, ‘25, one of the directors of the Student Political Action Coalition, said he thought it would be beneficial for club members to contrast Korchak’s points with the information provided from speakers they recently hosted. 

Braverman said she was aware members of the Student Political Action Coalition would be attending and Korchak was also informed. 

“She was so open for them to come and so were we,” Braverman said. 

Buitrago said he invited a few of his friends from nearby schools.

“A lot of us were very curious what the other side had to say and we believe in hearing the other side out and trying to come to a place of understanding,” Buitrago said. “It was really sad to see an event like this be exclusionary.” 

According to Student Affairs’ Student Organization, Group and Activity Policies, attendance to student organization events are generally limited to Lehigh students, faculty and staff, but permission may be granted to allow non-Lehigh participants. 

Braverman said one of the first individuals to show said he was not a Lehigh student.

“I said, ‘I’m so sorry, this event is only for Lehigh students, it’s closed to outside members,’ and he turned around, walks away and yells, ‘F—ing Zionists,’” Braverman said. 

While planning the event, Braverman said Korchak requested that only Lehigh Friends of Israel record her. Korchak reiterated this on stage before she gave her presentation. 

Braverman said Korchak wanted the event to be documented but was intent on nothing being edited or taken out of context. 

Friends of Israel recorded the event on Zoom. Braverman said this recording won’t be published anywhere unless the club receives permission from Korchak’s team.

Korchak’s presentation was about an hour long with an additional 30 minutes designated for the crowd to ask questions.

Schiffer said no one was removed from the event before the Q&A session, but one individual was escorted out of the room when the floor was opened for questions. 

He said this was requested by the event organizer, as this person’s behavior was determined by the organizer to be disruptive, and the individual agreed to leave with no further incident. 

Korchak’s main focus was regarding the history behind the two groups who feel they have deep connections to the same land.

During her presentation, Korchak said it’s true the conflict did not start on Oct. 7, 2023, but to say it started in 1948, when Israel was established, is also not true. She said the history between the Jewish and Palestinian identity began over 3,000 years ago.

Korchak also went through the peace treaties that were proposed to the Palestinian Authority by Israel to demonstrate that Israel has attempted to find ways to live peacefully with their neighbors according to her, but have been turned down.  

The Office of the Historian, an office of the United States Department of State within the Foreign Service Institute, records numerous peace treaties sent from both Israel and Palestine to each other over several decades. 

One such case is the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993. These accords created the Palestinian Authority, which gave Palestinians limited self-government while still remaining under Israeli occupation. This treaty also marked the first time both parties formally recognized each other, but this did not resolve further conflict. 

Braverman said there is not a genocide taking place in Gaza. She said for the conflict to be classified as genocide, it would need to be the intent of the Israeli nation, the Israeli government and the Israel Defense Force to kill every Palestinain.  

“That is not the intent,” Braverman said. “The only intent is to eradicate Hamas and to get our hostages home.”

On Jan. 24, a South African legal team outlined its case against Israel for committing genocide in Gaza to The International Court of Justice, which makes rulings on general disputes between nations. The court ruled there is plausible reason suggesting Israel may be committing acts of genocide in Gaza, and requested provisional measures to be taken. 

Buitrago said he asked Korchak about this ruling during the Q&A. 

“She basically disregarded that point and then went on to say, ‘No one is starving in Gaza,’” Buitrago said. 

Buitrago decided to leave the event after Korchak’s response. 

“Frankly, I have friends that are starving in Gaza and I found that so disrespectful and just completely so far removed from the truth,” Buitrago said. 

The Integrated Food Security Phase Classification is a tool used to classify and analyze the severity of food insecurity in several countries, with help from governments, U.N. agencies and more.

In a March 18 report, they stated that famine in Northern Gaza is imminent and there is a risk for it to spread.  

“Just disregarding how disrespectful that is to the millions of people starving in Gaza right now, it also perpetuates this narrative that what is going on in Gaza is not that bad,” Buitrago said. “That is extremely harmful, it dehumanizes Palestinians.” 

Schiffer said several people were passionately debating the speaker, and at times voices were raised.

Braverman said when the event was scheduled to end, attendees started to surround Korchak at the front of the stage, asking her many questions.

Braverman said the event got more intense and when she saw an LUPD officer getting in between a Lehigh professor and Korchak, she asked another officer to usher everyone out. 

“We said at the beginning of the event we want to create dialogue, but we want to remain respectful and to uphold the integrity of the conversation,” Braverman said. “When you have students screaming, blurting out random statements or information at her, that’s when it becomes disrespectful and not helpful to the overall conversation.” 

The event ran on a strict time frame as Korchak had to make her way to speak at another school. An officer escorted Korchak to her vehicle which, Schiffer said, is common practice for speaker events.

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