Ben Shapiro Bashes the Left, Ignites Political Conversation on Campus
Thunderous applause and a standing ovation welcomed conservative public speaker Ben Shapiro to the Wilf Campus's Lamport Auditorium Monday night for a student-run event that garnered a level of attention and scrutiny some have deemed historic for Yeshiva University.
Invited by YU’s College Republicans Club, the political commentator, author, attorney, and talk show host addressed a variety of contemporary societal issues in America.
Shapiro drew a huge crowd, as around 700 students, alumni, and administrators filled Lamport Auditorium, buzzing with anticipation for the contentious speaker to emerge onstage. The crowd was packed with both men and women, many of whom made the trip up from the downtown Beren Campus for the event.
A building on the Wilf campus rarely sees as much security as it did Monday night. The event was also streamed online through Young America’s Foundation, a conservative youth organization that helped make the entire event possible.
Before Shapiro spoke, Yossi Hoffman, President of the Yeshiva College Republicans Club, graced the stage. “While this isn’t our first event of the semester,” he noted, “it’s definitely our biggest.”
It sure was, and all sorts of students were motivated to come hear the speaker for a wide variety of reasons.
Elliot Fuchs, a member of the executive board of the YU College Republicans, followed Mr. Hoffman, and spoke about Shapiro’s character. “Ben is an intelligent, engaging and entertaining speaker. Shapiro is not too much older than us and most of his employees are our age, so he and his team set an incredible example for students like us.”
While many who attended agreed with the views of the young political analyst, others went to broaden their political perspective. Miriam Einhorn, President of YU’s College Democrats Club, said, “being a liberal, I went to the event to hear a different perspective than mine on the political spectrum. I went not exactly to challenge my views but to hear and understand the conservative side of things.”
Others, like Sy Syms junior Shimmy Borgen, showed up merely because Shapiro identifies as a Modern Orthodox Jew. Borgen was curious to see how someone of such an orientation would approach the topics up for discussion.
Some students were very familiar with Shapiro and came with the intent to pose a question to the Daily Wire’s editor-in-chief at the end of his speech, while others came out of pure curiosity with no previous knowledge of the speaker. Still others admitted that they simply came because Shapiro is extremely entertaining, and they were looking for a good show.
During his speech, Shapiro primarily focused on the country’s contemporary state, boldly stating, “America – our social fabric is gone.” He argued that the mainstream left movement has a backwards idea of what humans are, what rights they have within society, and what their responsibility is to their nation. These views, he contended, are responsible for destroying America’s social fabric, the figurative glue that holds the country together, ultimately preventing it from functioning as a culturally rich and socially cohesive community.
He criticized the leftist community for habitually faulting a “flaw in the system,” rather than putting the burden of blame on individual people, when a societal problem arises. He applied this view emphatically to the notion of “white supremacy.” He attempted to debunk the claim that institutional racism is holding back people of color from thriving in society and elevating lighter skinned people to better lifestyles and opportunities.
His criticism continued as he condemned the left’s ideology for putting too much stock in people’s emotions and political correctness instead of dealing with matters in an objective fashion. He mentioned his patented phrase, “facts don’t care about your feelings,” numerous times throughout the evening.
Perhaps the most controversial moment of the evening occurred when Shapiro discussed his personal frustrations with micro aggressions, specifically with those regarding transsexuality. He mocked the media’s portrayal of celebrity and former athlete Caitlyn Jenner, perhaps the most famous transgender figure, as a national hero and savior. He belabored an instance on CNN headline news when he had an unpleasant interaction with a transgender person. These comments were met with a raucous round of applause from the audience. “My perspective on transgenderism is pretty clear,” Shapiro stated. “Transgender people are unfortunately suffering from a significant mental illness that is deeply harmful.”
However, Shapiro’s words came much to the dismay of many students in attendance, whose displeasure was drowned out by the applause of the larger crowd. Sruly Heller, a YU alum, felt deeply disturbed by Shapiro’s comments on gender dysphoria. “I thought his treatment of transgender issues was the grossest manifestation possible of a total paucity of menschlichkeit,” said the former student.
Elliot Heller, a Yeshiva College junior in attendance, reacted similarly. “My favorite part,” he said with irony, “was when he talked about the importance of being a mensch, before bragging about calling a transgender woman ‘sir,’ claiming that not everyone is deserving of respect, and declaring that as long as something is true, it can't be offensive.”
While his comments irked some, to others the crowd’s reaction was even worse. Stern College junior Rachel Lelonek commented, “I was not surprised by many of the things Ben Shapiro said because I am familiar with his borderline alt-right views. What surprised me what the cheering and laughing that came from the audience, especially from the male audience, following his bigoted remarks about the LGBTQ community - especially individuals who identify as transgender.”
Shapiro encouraged YU students to avoid the errors of leftist political thought by practicing decency towards all people and accepting personal responsibility to improve America’s broken social fabric.
After his speech, Shapiro held a lengthy question and answer session for the students in attendance, during which he fielded questions on societal matters ranging from abortion laws, drug-related activities and consequences, racial discrimination, and more. At times he even offered insight into how Judaism views those topics.
Shapiro has seen no shortage of controversy during his tours at college campuses. Earlier this year, the conservative pundit was banned from speaking at DePaul University in Chicago, and he has been greeted with a great deal of resistance at other universities across the country, most notably University of Wisconsin-Madison, California State, and Penn State. Nationwide, many have dubbed Shapiro a bully, racist, bigot, homophobe, alt-rightist, and more, and his presence as a political figure has rarely been taken lightly.
While there were no violent protests on the Wilf Campus after Shapiro finished speaking, plenty of dissenting opinions emanated from the crowd. While the applause for some of Mr. Shapiro’s comments was loud, a number of students opposed what he said in entirety, and some left Lamport Auditorium with mixed feelings about the event.
“My reaction to the event is twofold,” said Kira Paley, a Stern College student in her first semester. “I'm impressed with many of the YU College Republicans for running the event so efficiently and for ensuring that most people got a chance to ask questions. Hate speech, however, does not call for thunderous applause and laughter, and I am ashamed that many of those who responded this way identify with YU.”
Others, such as YC Senior Ari Marder, expressed that while he usually leans to the left on certain issues, he appreciated Shapiro’s perspectives and willingness to discuss these issues in such an open forum.
Still, many of those in attendance Monday shared a quite favorable view of Shapiro and his brazen statements. David Raden, a Yeshiva College sophomore who said he “ditched” his lab out of excitement for hearing Shapiro, lauded the speaker’s lecture after it concluded. “Ben Shapiro represents something amazing within this liberal nation we have, and he fights for the truth. I also think he is a real mensch and intends to educate people for the betterment of society. He made a great impact tonight.”
Despite the controversy among students about Shapiro’s views, many agreed that the event was valuable as a forum for starting conversation on campus.
“The opportunity to gather both conservative and liberal identifying people into the same room for a discussion was very inspiring,” observed Borgen. “Everyone had the right intention in mind, and it was awesome to see all the students being respectful, regardless of political associations.”
Some have said that they hope the YU College Democrats organize a similar event of their own, showcasing a speaker who represents more liberal viewpoints and ideals to the same YU community that heard this ideology criticized Monday night.
YU College Republicans President Yossi Hoffman opened the event by saying, “It’s okay to have differences of opinion.” Mr. Shapiro’s Monday night speech proved that YU contains exactly that: a student body of diverse thought and opinion, one that can’t be generalized with a single statement or label.