By Akshaj Gaur and Natalie Weger

About 80 University of Maryland students gathered inside Stamp Student Union Tuesday night for a lecture by Israeli politician Dan Illouz against a backdrop of protests.

Hasbara Fellowships, this university’s Terps for Israel organization and the Maryland Israel Affairs Committee hosted the event. About 40 students, including members of this university’s Jewish Voice for Peace and Students for Justice in Palestine chapters, protested the event in and outside Stamp.

The students protested Illouz’s ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party. Illouz has represented the party in Israel’s parliament since January 2023. He also served as the Israel Director for the Zionist Organization of America for more than three years.

During his lecture, Illouz discussed his experiences in the Israeli government and expressed despair for the victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7, 2023, attack on Israel. He highlighted that Hamas is still holding many of the roughly 250 hostages it took on Oct. 7 captive.

“These people, my brothers, are being held without any human rights against all norms of international law,” Illouz said.

[UMD community members gather to watch documentary on Hamas’ attack on Israeli music festival]

Illouz asked the audience to join him in counting to 185. As of Tuesday, 185 days had passed since Hamas took the hostages.

During Illouz’s speech, at least four students silently walked out of the room and raised their hands — which were painted red — into the air.

The four students were escorted out of the room on their own accord and were then referred to the student conduct office by University of Maryland Police, according to UMPD spokesperson Lt. Rosanne Hoaas.

This university’s Students for Justice in Palestine chapter also organized a protest outside Stamp during Illouz’s speech.

Hamas killed at least 1,200 people in Israel during the Oct. 7 attack and Israel declared war on Hamas the next day, the Associated Press reported. More than 33,000 people in Palestine have been killed since October, the Associated Press reported April 11.

The number of people killed in the attack and Hamas’ tactics were “horrifying,” Illouz said. Hamas should be “destroyed,” he added.

Some students, including this university’s Jewish Student Union president and sophomore mechanical engineering major Stone Schwartz, came to the event to “hear from somebody who’s on the ground, working in the government.”

“Biggest thing I took away is the fact that the Israeli government is set on the fact of destroying Hamas and getting rid of them for good,” Schwartz said.

Terps for Israel president Emma Steinhause helped plan Tuesday’s event and enjoyed learning from a person in the Israeli government.

“I think it was a really unique perspective for students to hear,” the sophomore operations management and business analytics major said.

The four protesters inside the lecture were members of this university’s Jewish Voice for Peace chapter, Hershel Barnstein, the organization’s president and one of the protestors said.

Barnstein, a senior biology major, emphasized that the protesters “were not disruptive in any way.”

[Student protesters interrupt Rep. Jamie Raskin’s UMD lecture with chants supporting Palestine]

Rifka Handelman, another protestor and Jewish Voice for Peace member, said the group wanted to highlight the presence of “anti-Zionist” Jewish community members on campus.

“We absolutely have the right to make it clear that this man is not welcome on our campus,” Handelman, a junior environmental science and policy major, said.

Protestors outside Stamp chanted and condemned Illouz’s ties to the Likud party. Community members chanted “Danny, Danny you can’t hide, you’re committing genocide” and “Free, free Palestine.”

Several attendees, including Students for Justice in Palestine member Matt Foos, criticized Illouz’s presence on campus. Giving Illouz a platform with his stance on the situation in Gaza is “tremendously irresponsible,” the junior philosophy and physics major said.

“We’re not going to let this kind of thing happen in our backyard,” Foos said.

In a Tuesday statement to The Diamondback before the speech and protests, this university said it supports community members’ right to “respectfully exercise their freedom of expression while prioritizing the safety of our campus.”