Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Young Jewish activists provide alternative voice

Yesterday I tuned into the livestream of Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu speaking to the Jewish Federation's General Assembly in New Orleans. Netanyahu quickly moved to the threats facing Israel, a "go-to" topic for all of Israel's politicians and pariahs. Netanyahu first spoke about the great threat-of-all-threats that is Iran, and then about the second greatest threat facing Israel, that being the detractors who are working to delegitimize Israel. At that point, there was some audible yelling in the audience, enough of a disruption for Netanyahu to pause. The disruptions continued, with short intervals between outbursts. The disruptions were barely audible on the live feed I was watching, but the reaction of the crowd became more and more reactionary which each interruption. By the third, the crowd starting booing and yelling as soon as a protester raised her/his voice. Ironically, these boos created the need for Netanyahu to pause for even longer. I was excited to scour the internet for information about the protesters who had tried to insert an alternative voice into Netanyahu's speech. Joyously, I didn't have to scour the internet for long, as the protest had been picked up by AP, the New York Times, Haaretz, The Jersualem Post, NPR, Democracy Now!, The Jewish Forward, Ynet News, and many more outlets.

Rae Abileah, one of the activists who took part in imparting some wisdom to Netanyahu wrote about the experience:
Our well-orchestrated protest began with the bold voice of local New Orleans resident Emily Ratner, who stood up after applause for Netanyahu and proclaimed, “The Loyalty Oath delegitimizes Israel!” as she unfurled a banner with the same message. (The protest was captured on video by AP here) As Emily was removed from the room she continued shouting, and Netanyahu commented from the podium, “If they came to delegitimize Israel, they came to the wrong address.” We believe we were knocking on exactly the right door, with a message to the Jews in attendance: Israel’s occupation and oppressive policies delegitimize Israel in the eyes of the world.
And finally, after Netanyahu summarized the two “greatest threats” to Israel – a nuclear Iran and “delegitimizers”– I stood up and unfurled a pink banner that read, “The settlements betray Jewish values” and in Hebrew: “Justice, justice you shall pursue,” a verse from Deuteronomy. The crowd had grown increasingly hostile with each disruption, and I was instantly attacked from all sides. A man in the row in front of me pulled the El Al seat cover off his chair and tried to gag me with it. Another man came up from the side and grabbed me by the throat. I fell into a pile of chairs until two female sheriffs buoyed me up and hustled me out of the room. The police later confided that they were trying to protect me from the angry mob and get me out of there in one piece.
Abileah's description of the (rabid) crowd's response, along with the video documentation is pretty frightening. Abileah is called a 'bitch' by someone in the crowd, alarmingly sexist and vulgar language being directed at someone who was standing up as a human rights advocate. Other protesters were called 'assholes' for suggesting that the occupation and racist Israeli laws are delegitimizing Israel.

Here is a video of the protesters introducing themselves and explaining why they came to New Orleans.

You will start seeing this more and more, mark my word.

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