Ben Shapiro’s speech at Yeshiva University in which he called transgender people mentally ill and mocked the political left drew strong criticism from some students.
While many in the crowd at Monday night’s event cheered the right-wing pundit’s barbs, others said that his remarks left a bad taste in their mouth — and reflected poorly on the Modern Orthodox flagship institution
YU alumnus Sruly Heller told the student paper The Commentator, “I thought his treatment of transgender issues was (gross).”
“My favorite part 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,” Elliot Heller, a college junior, told the paper.
During the event Shapiro said that it’s not his problem if people are offended by facts.
Referring to this, Heller told the Forward: “According to that, there should be nothing wrong with walking up to a Holocaust survivor and reading them statistics or details of concentration camp deaths.”
“His whole persona represents a lack of tact, a lack of respect,” Heller said.
“What bothers me is how hypocritical his remarks were,” said Kira Paley, a freshman at Stern College, Yeshiva’s women’s division.
“You can’t brag about how you humiliate people on national television and make jokes at their expense while simultaneously describing yourself as a good person,” she told the Forward.
During the event, Paley, asked Shapiro a critical question, because she “wanted to represent the population of students at the event who don’t regard him as the hero of Modern Orthodoxy.”
She also criticized her fellow students for applauding his controversial remarks.
“Hate speech, however, does not call for thunderous applause and laughter,” she said. “I am ashamed that many of those who responded this way identify with YU.”
Rachel Lelonek, a junior at Stern, echoed that sentiment.
“I was not surprised by many of the things Ben Shapiro said because I am familiar with his … views,” Lelonek told YU’s student paper. “What surprised me what the cheering and laughing that came from the audience … following his bigoted remarks about the LGBTQ community.”
Shapiro, the host of the conservative podcast The Daily Wire and a prime target of abuse from the “alt-right,” attracted the applause of many at the College Republicans-sponsored event when he made his comments about transgender people, describing an argument he once had on Headline News with a trans woman reporter.
“Transgender people are unfortunately suffering from a significant mental illness that is deeply harmful, and it’s not a solution to pretend that transgender people are the sex that they think they are in their head,” Shapiro said on Monday night. “Biology is biology; men can’t magically become women, and women can’t magically become men.”
The event was organized by YU’s College Republicans Club. Elliot Fuchs, a member of their executive board, liked the performance of the controversial guest.
“I thought that Shapiro was an incredibly entertaining and intellectual speaker,” Fuchs told the Forward. “He was open to disagreement and even thanked those who argued with him for attending the event.”
“Agree or disagree, I felt that he is a role model for everyone in YU because he shows that any one of us can be the next great political thinker,” Fuchs said.
Asked about Shapio’s comments on transgenders, Fuchs said that Shapiro’s outspokenness is why people like to listen to him. “I am of the opinion that Shapiro presented a logical argument and used personal anecdote and humor to support his opinion,” Fuchs said. “He did a great job.”
Lilly Maier is a news intern at the Forward. She is a graduate journalism student at New York University, where she studies as a Fulbright scholar. She also holds a B.A. in Jewish history from the University of Munich.
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