On Wednesday, Hedy Epstein appeared at UC Irvine during the Muslim Student Union’s anti-Israel week of events. (Epstein was born in Germany and was part of the so-called Kinder Transport whereby thousands of Jewish children were sent to England during the late 1930s. Her family remained in Germany and died in the Holocaust.)As in previous years, Epstein told her story about surviving the Holocaust and later in life becoming involved in the Israel/Palestinian conflict after the Shaba and Shatila massacres in Lebanon during the 1980s. She told of her first trip to Israel with Palestinian activists and having to endure Israeli checks –including a strip search at the airport in Israel. Epstein, of course, an ardent critic of Israel and says that she and her family have opposed Zionism since she first heard about it as a child.
Epstein began her talk by mentioning a petition that is being circulated demanding UC president Mark Yudof’s resignation in response to a letter he recently issued deploring racist and anti-Semitic incidents on UC campuses. (He didn’t mention anything about Islamophobia.) After her presentation, she signed the petition.
Epstein also brought us up to date on her recent activities including her participation in a flotilla boatlift to Gaza a couple of years ago, in which the boat she was on was stopped by the Greeks just after leaving harbor.
During the Q and A, a gentleman identified himself as the child of Holocaust survivors and politely told her that she was sharing a platform (other sponsored speakers, specifically Amir Abdel Malik Ali from the previous day) who supported Hamas and Hezbollah and thus, supported people who wanted to destroy Jews-I am paraphrasing.) In her response, Epstein said that she condemns all violence, but that the violence carried out by Palestinians pales in comparison to that carried out by Israel and the IDF (Israeli Defense Force). She also reminded the questioner that Hamas was elected by the people of Gaza.
Afterward, as Epstein was leaving, I greeted her, and we spoke for a few minutes in German (about Germany). We had spoken a couple of years previously about Germany after her talk. I did not try to engage her in debate out of respect for her advanced age. I thanked her for her presentation and visit to UCI and wished her a good day.