Jewish Yelling for Peace

Right before Brandeis’ Israel Occupation week, a group of students Jewish Voices for Peace (not from Brandeis) gained notoriety as they heckled Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as he spoke to the Jewish General Assembly in New Orleans.

Benjamin Netanyahu was interrupted five times by protesters who shouted and held up signs while the Israeli prime minister was delivering an address on Monday to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

The protesters shouted “the loyalty oaths delegitimize Israel” and “the occupation delegitimizes Israel” while being escorted from the room. Their signs bore similar messages.

The disrupters were members of a group of young protesters convened by Jewish Voice for Peace, a left-wing activist organization. The protesters said that they were responding to the General Assembly’s focus on what has been called an international effort to delegitimize Israel.

There’s a lively discussion about whether they were justified. For the “their tactics deligitimize their cause” argument, see Ben Sales’ piece in the New Voices magazine. For an opposing view, read the comments to his piece, and also read the explanation of the activists in their own words.

I really like what JewSchool has to say here and also here. Lots to unpack – I could quote all three articles but I suggest you just read them.

Here’s what struck me:

But the most experienced protester on the team rightly said that people would take down our signs within seconds and we would be unable to make our point. We also considered singing. After lengthy discussion, we decided we had to yell “Young Jewish Proud!” and then the sign content. We all agreed it was the absolute right decision, but we had to sacrifice the feeling of solemnity we had preferred. We weren’t there to “heckle”- we were there to take a stand.”

We knew people would not be pleased, but we didn’t anticipate the level of violence and frankly it was not our intention to make people in the room look ugly. I have mixed feelings about that- I dont consider federation people “The Other”. That’s family in there, for almost all of us, so I don’t take pleasure in the unmasking of the mob mentality. On the other hand, I understand it’s critical for our movement that it has been revealed-many others in the room were shocked. But we would not have purposely engineered it with that particular group.

I totally empathize. So often activists will carefully consider one tactic, then another, then make a hard choice for what they think might be the best decision – and once they make their decision even their natural allies feel free to armchair quarterback and second-guess their decision.

Guess what – the JVP tactic worked. Agree with them or not, but they believe they’re trying to save the State of Israel and the soul of the Jewish people. Asking them to hold back from that for the sake of politeness is insensitive.

Compare that to the people who protested Noam Chomsky the other day. Dozens of them waited hour(s?) in line to make sure they had the privilege of silently walking out on him during his speech. My friend Renana, who co-organized the event, said that she thought their protest was respectful.

I was miffed on behalf of those students who didn’t get to see Chomsky, but after thinking and writing, I don’t think I am anymore. It’s hard, frequently impossible, to choose tactics that are respectful, effective, and don’t piss anyone off.