Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic withdraws from University of Kentucky speaking event amid student concerns

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jeffrey Goldberg, Editor-in-Chief of The Atlantic, withdrew from a scheduled speaking event at the University of Kentucky (UK) Wednesday, citing a last-minute schedule change, amidst concerns from students about his past as a former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) prison guard and his views on Zionism.

The event, titled “The Future of Journalism and the Health of our Democracy,” proceeded Wednesday at UK’s Singletary Center Theatre with Atlantic Senior Editor Jenisha Watts, a UK alum, as the sole speaker. It was hosted by CivicLex, The University of Kentucky, Lextropolis, MSi Production Services, and Blue Grass Community Foundation.

Promotional poster for the event. (University of Kentucky)

A representative from the Lexington-based advocacy group Lex4Palestine conveyed via an Instagram direct message that students had reached out to the Office of Institutional Diversity expressing concerns over Goldberg’s invitation. “We were informed that students expressed concern as to why a former IDF prison guard would be speaking on democracy and journalism at an event celebrating the integration of UK. Students were told he withdrew to not cause harm on campus,” the representative stated.

Goldberg’s past includes a stint in the IDF during the First Intifada, where he served as a prison guard at Ktzi’ot Prison, a facility established to detain Palestinian participants in the uprising. His experiences and subsequent reflections on Zionism have been subjects of his writings, earning him a label of ‘liberal Zionist’ in some circles.

UK spokesperson Jay Blanton described the speaker change as an “unfortunate last-minute change in his schedule,” but expressed delight at Watts’ participation and engagement with students and the community.

The decision comes amid heightened sensitivities regarding Israel’s military actions in Gaza and the associated humanitarian concerns. According to three sources familiar with the matter, the university administration received expressions of concern over Goldberg’s association with the IDF and his perceived endorsement of Zionism, especially given the current conflict and famine in Gaza.

Richard Young, Executive Director of CivicLex, declined to comment on the record regarding the situation.

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Paul Oliva is the Lexington Times Editor Emeritus. He grew up in Lexington.