An uncensored Ben Shapiro explains controversial views at first YAF event


Neima Fax

CONSERVATIVE: Ben Shapiro was greeted enthusiastically in the Beit Midrash on January 17.

Before a standing-room-only lunchtime crowd in the Beit Midrash, conservative speaker and radio host Ben Shapiro this week defended his stances on transgenderism, gay marriage, freedom of expression, and many other issues in a question-and-answer session that was surprisingly respectful and calm, even though much of what he said was controversial.

It was the first-ever event of Shalhevet’s newest club, a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom led by freshmen Kate Orlanski, Sivan Karz and Max Wintner. The group decided to “start at the top,” Sivan said, adding that “at Shalhevet we learn to strive for the best. So for our first speaker we didn’t just seek someone well known in Los Angeles or even in California. We set out for the top.”

Mr. Shapiro spoke from just after noon until 1:20 p.m. Around 160 people attended, including students, teachers and three Shalhevet alumni. Only 125 seats had been set up, leaving many to stand or sit on the floor.

It was Shapiro’s second at Shalhevet in the past two school years. In September 2016, Shapiro made a controversial appearance for upperclassmen, when he was limited to speaking only about Israel and how to fight the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

This time, all topics were allowed.

Mr. Shapiro began by giving a short speech on why he was there, saying he was appearing free of charge in support of Jewish values that teach the value of community over solely personal goals.

After eight minutes, students were invited to line up for a turn to ask him a question.  About 23 did, some more than once.

Freshman Molly Litvak asked which news source he considered the most reliable, Mr. Shapiro said it wasn’t a question of the site as much as the individual.  He praised Jake Tapper while saying most CNN reporters “didn’t try.” He also called the New York Times “wildly biased to the left” while praising New York Times journalist Maggie Haberman.

As for himself, he said he didn’t claim to be unbiased and said people should check his facts. Mr. Shapiro is editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, an opinion website.

“We’re an opinion journalism site, meaning that we’re openly conservative,” he said. “And we don’t hide anything about that. Right — I’m conservative, my writers are conservative… The idea that we’re objective is not true. You can take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

“I encourage people, if you hear my saying a fact and you don’t believe the fact, check out the fact and then see whether what I’m saying is my opinion based on the fact or actually the fact. And when you’re looking at news, I would suggest that you read my site and you read Huffington Post and treat it as though it’s a geometry problem. Where the two lines intersect, that’s where the facts lie and everything else is drawn from the fact.”

While he was more amiable than often seen in viral videos, Mr. Shapiro’s comments about transgenderism and marriage provoked several animated audience reactions.  

There were multiple questions about transgenderism. Sophomore Tobey Lee asked why he considers transgenderism a mental disorder when it was declassified as such by the American Psychological Association in 2013.

Mr. Shapiro responded that he believes the change was not based on evidence but rather on societal pressure.

Senior Rami Gruman asked Shapiro why he cared about transgenderism if it did not affect him.

“I don’t care,” Mr. Shapiro replied. “But I’m not going to pretend it’s not a mental illness. I’m not going to ignore an issue of obvious importance that people are talking about every day because it doesn’t have an affect on me. Because, the truth is, it does have an affect on the culture.…

“I think we’re moving in a direction that’s highly dangerous as a society, where it’s not just that some people suffer from this disorder — which is tragic — but we’re going to see, as we’ve seen in Europe, more gender confusion among younger people.”

He was also asked four questions about gay marriage — a topic he’d been asked not to address last time he was at Shalhevet, within weeks of Rabbi Segal’s announcement of Shalhevet’s official LGBT inclusion policy.

Junior Asher Dauer asked if gay marriages should be legalized if heterosexual marriage already was.  Mr. Shapiro answered that he does not believe in the government being involved in marriage in the first place,  

“The idea of the state being involved in marriage is somewhat altogether puzzling to me,” Mr. Shapiro said. “But the idea that the state has an obligation to equate same-sex marriage with differential-sex marriage is utterly illogical — the reason being that the entire purpose of a state having an interest in a particular relationship is not two people that love each other; you can do that without marriage… What makes marriage important to the government is the production and rearing of children.”

Sophomore Yarin Amzalag asked what the line is between freedom of expression and disrespecting the flag and national anthem.

“I think there are some pretty fuzzy distinctions between free expression and free speech itself,” said Shapiro. “It says free speech in the Constitution. It does not say freedom of expression.You start running into some dicey territory when you start saying that all activity is free speech.”

But the Q&A was not all serious political discussion.

Mr. Shapiro’s visit coincided with a SAC-sponsored pajama day in honor of Rosh Chodesh Sh’vat, so many attendees of the event were dressed very casually.

Senior Daniel Lorell approached the microphone in a Darth Vader onesie.

“I have a direct quote from your website…” Daniel said, seeming ready to question the speaker about something real. But it turned out his question pertained to Star Wars, and revealed a major spoiler for the current movie The Last Jedi. This prompted a rare laugh from the audience and from Mr. Shapiro himself.

Neima Fax
Ben Shapiro is the editor of The Daily Wire.

A YULA alumnus and former editor of Breitbart News, Mr. Shapiro has gained notoriety for his conservative news website and sometimes provocatively worded attacks on liberals and others he disagrees with.  Although he often opposes President Donald Trump, his Daily Wire and podcast, The Ben Shapiro Show, and frequent appearances at colleges around the country sometimes cause an uproar. He and other conservative speakers were the topic of fierce and occasionally violent protests in Berkeley last year.

The Boiling Point asked about his having tweeted: “Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.”  He replied that he’d been quoted out of context.

Mr. Shapiro then asked if the questioner had “read any of the follow-up tweets” which he said were “specifically talking about the Palestinian leadership.” He was then asked whether it was productive to make this claim.

“I think it is productive to say that the Palestinian-Arab leadership should direct the $300 million that they are getting from the United States taxpayers toward fixing the open sewage problem,” he said, “rather than the families of terrorists who are murdering Israelis in their beds.”

According to the YAF’s national website, Mr. Shapiro charges over $20,000 for a speaking engagement..

“The basic rule is that when I speak, I get paid lots of money,” Mr. Shapiro said in his opening remarks. “That rule does not apply when I speak at Jewish high schools. When I speak at Jewish high schools, I speak for free.”

Throughout the Q&A the room mainly remained focused on the speaker with few side conversations, save for times when Shapiro made a joke or a striking comment.

YAF, an organization promoting conservatism among youth, has chapters mainly at colleges throughout the country. Freshmen Kate Orlanksi, Sivan Karz and Max Wintner were responsible for contacting YAF and setting up the chapter.

“I wanted to put a more conservative presence on campus,” said Kate. “You know we’re kind of lacking in that. So I was researching different organizations and I found YAF and that looked like the ideal organization to get involved in.”

When they first suggested inviting Mr. Shapiro to speak for their club, Kate and Sivan were asked by Rabbi Segal and Dr. Noam Weissman to create a policy that would ensure speakers were respectful. The policy was the topic of debate at Town Hall Dec. 21.

One of its requirements was that speeches should be “consistent with Shalhevet’s values, as they are stated on the school website, of: Jewish Heritage, Ideals of American Democracy, Passionate support for the Welfare of the State of Israel, and all within an environment that encourages critical, respectful and creative thought.”  

The policy was shown to Mr. Shapiro and he was asked to follow it. Sivan and Kate said they couldn’t be sure he had read it, but that he had agreed.

“Thank you to the Shalhevet administration for being open to it and allowing me to speak on any topic this time,” said Mr. Shapiro, prompting applause.

While going after one of the most famous conservative speakers might have been a lofty goal, it did not require much deliberation from the YAF chapter.

“We kind of wanted to aim for the best and Ben Shapiro sort of seemed like the best,” said Kate. “When we contacted him we told him that we were going to try to avoid all these restrictions.  He mentioned in the meeting that he was very excited to be able to talk about whatever he wanted.”

The group’s faculty advisor is Mr. William Reusch, at whose suggestion YAF hosted a question-writing workshop at lunch on Jan. 10 to prepare for the event.

“I wanted it to be questions coming from a place of curiosity not coming from a place of trying to one-up him or embarrass him because he’s our guest,” said Mr. Reusch. “So genuine curiosity about why he thinks the way he does or what his viewpoints are.”

Mr. Reusch praised the trio’s initiative as freshmen.

“I did very little here,” said Mr. Reusch. “I was just the adult figurehead, to escort him up and talk to him and make him feel comfortable. It was 99 percent them. It was awesome to see freshman girls take a leadership role like that.”

According to Kate, the YAF chapter hopes to have future speakers such as Dennis Prager, who Kate said was suggested to them by Mr. Shapiro. They plan to use a similar designed event as the Shapiro talk due to its success.