The pro-Palestinian “Never Again for Anyone” tour is midway through its 13-city run across the United States and Canada, leaving at least one controversial incident in its wake.
The tour, which features Holocaust survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer, is designed to, “honor those who perished in the Holocaust by advocating for the human rights inherent to all people—and particularly for Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation,” according to a video put out by the tour.
At Rutgers, the tour stop was met with a large protest from Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus—where some students claim Jewish and Zionist attendees were deliberately barred from the meeting.
Prior to the day of the event, the NAFA panel was described as “free and open to the public.” When people showed up, a donation of $5 to $20 was required for entry.
“The fee was a last minute response to the overwhelming amount of Jewish students and supporters who showed up,” said Ariel Bucher, a senior at Rutgers who attempted to attend the event.
Bucher waited in line for over an hour but refused to go in when she found out about the entrance fee.
“This event was advertised as free—they posted an advertisement for it on the message board of my Arab-Israeli conflict class saying it was free and open to the public,” Bucher said. “I genuinely wanted to go and listen, but there’s no way I would donate money to a cause that makes comparisons I believe to be anti-Semitic.”
Bucher said she tried to join BAKA, one of the groups sponsoring the event and whose members attended the event for free, but was denied membership.
Sarah Kershnar, the Never Again for Anyone tour’s co-coordinator, said the accusations of bias are false.
“It’s ridiculous that we would have a No-Jews Allowed policy,” Kershnar said. “There were Jews, Muslims, Atheists, and Christians in there. Of course Jews were allowed. Two of us up there on the platform are Jews.”
Kershnar said the decision to make the donation mandatory happened after Rutgers raised the cost for renting the space to $1,200; also, anticipating a large protest, event organizers decided to hire extra Rutgers police, which added to event costs. Kershnar did not specify when the decision to charge a mandatory admission fee was made public.
Kershnar believes those who refused to pay the fee were not objecting to the price, but to the project itself.
“The crowd claimed to be upset about the fee, but they’re actually upset that we’re taking [the Holocaust] from them, we’re taking the justification they have for their apartheid policies,” she said. “The message of the tour is that all human lives are equally valuable, that the persecution of one group doesn’t justify the persecution of another. This message is upsetting to Zionists.“
Max Hockley, a junior, attended the event wearing a T-Shirt that read, “Don’t Politicize the Holocaust.”
“I got there pretty early, and when I registered, they asked me for a suggested donation. I said no thank you, and that was it,” he said. “When it was time to let people in, lots of Jews and Zionists had shown up, and the event organizers physically ripped the ‘suggested’ off of the ‘suggested donation’ sign. It was definitely a last minute change.”
Because he had registered early, Hockley was allowed to enter without paying a fee.
“If they had asked me to pay, I would not have gone in,” Hockley said. “I would never give money to such a despicable organization.”
He found the presentation both offensive and inaccurate.
“[Never Again For Anyone] sells themselves as a high-road, both-sides organization but they’re simply not,” Hockley said. “Their message was not stopping injustice for all of humanity—they can say that, but the entire message was all anti-Zionist and what I believe to be anti-Semitic as well.”
The Anti-Defamation League has described the tour as “a blatant attempt to exploit the memory of the Holocaust as a tool to demonize Israel.” According to the group, speakers described Israel as an “apartheid” state, referred to Israeli solders as Nazis and compared Israel’s blockade of Gaza to a “concentration camp” or “ghetto.”
“They compared [Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu to Hitler,” Hockley said, “but they don’t mention any of the rulers around the world who are committing actual genocide. They don’t say, for example that in Iran you have president Ahmadinejad, who says he wants to drive all the Jews into the sea.”
Kershnar said the message of the event has been misconstrued.
“We are not claiming what’s happening [in Palestine] is the same thing as the Holocaust,” she said. “All human rights violations that happen—in the Congo, in parts of India, at the US border, the Nazis—these are all unique historical experiences. But we’re talking about a common pattern that makes it possible for anyone to dehumanize another group.”
While the event might be divisive and upsetting to people, Kershnar said, she believes the Hedy Epstein and Hajo Meyer have a right to their opinions.
“You have to remember that the Zionists took it from us,” she said. “We had two speakers there who were Holocaust survivors—who has more of a right to speak about these things, than they? Who has more of a right to say, ‘Don’t you dare use my history, use a violation of my rights, to justify a gross human rights violation?’”
“It’s sad that we’ve gotten to the point where the statement, ‘I’ve had this experience, I don’t want others to have it’ is inflammatory,” she added.
Hockley maintains that while he wants to see an end to conflict in the region, this tour is not the way foster peace in the Middle East.
“To go to a meeting about ‘dialogue’ where the majority of my Jewish peers are barred,” he said, “where I have to be told that I’m a Nazi? It’s absurd and sad. This tour is about making the divide bigger, not smaller.”
Kate Havard is a student at St. John’s College. She is a member of the Student Free Press Association.