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.


7 responses to “Jewish Yelling for Peace”

  1. Jay, I’d be interested in reading an example of “an article from Jeremy Ben Ami talking about how AIPAC and its supporters are a bunch of brainwashed religious fundamentalists”

  2. Jay

    Again, you are just proving my point, which is that arguments between AIPAC and J Street(and the like) are one big “he started it” argument. Im sure reading an article by Abe Foxman talking about how awful JVP is can be frustrating. But reading an article from Jeremy Ben Ami talking about how AIPAC and its supporters are a bunch of brainwashed religious fundamentalists is just as ridiculous, and simply adds onto this notion of drawing lines and digging in.

    Guess what? Groups like J Street have their own major biases and are just as antagonistic towards AIPAC as AIPAC is towards J Street. Taking the stance that “people who support groups like AIPAC are brainwashed while those supporting J-Street are the only ones trying to really get a dialogue going” just adds onto this whole cycle where one group antagonizes, and vice versa. Yes, J Street doesn’t do things like blacklist members, but I wouldnt confuse the inability to do something with the unwillingness to do something. Put J-Street in any position of power, and I would put good money on AIPAC getting the same treatment.

    So, looking at your posts, I’m guessing any response to this would be along the lines of “J Street wanted to talk! AIPAC immediately shut us out!” because you are part of this cycle of attacking the other without realizing why someone would attack you. So before you start talking about what J Street or JVP is doing that AIPAC wont do, maybe look at your own posts and think about how youre adding to this endless cycle of idiocy (hint: the answer won’t be found by attacking AIPAC).

  3. Lev

    That’s a silly comparison and a false equivalence. The primary point of my post is that the right-wing Jewish community is trying to force everyone to get behind AIPAC… and then make it look like no one else exists. This is not true of the left for either J Street (which is not left at all, but actually quite center) or JVP. Neither group claims to have (or even tries to have) a monopoly on the Jewish community.

    Secondly, I don’t know what dragging of AIPAC through the mud I’m talking about, but my issue here is the way the Jewish community refuses to even LISTEN to J Street or JVP. Just yesterday a synagogue in Newton canceled a talk by Jeremy Ben-Ami, founder of J Street, because people in the synagogue got angry. The Jewish federation of Boston is trying to take punative action against the Workman’s Circle (Yiddish Socialist community) because they rented their hall out to American Jews for a Just Peace, which supports BDS.

    This isn’t about misplaced apprehensiveness, this is about literally shutting out any opinion that is not there own. JVP and J Street couldn’t do this even if they tried. The problem isn’t that AIPAC is criticizing J-Street and JVP (criticism is fine), the problem is blacklisting J-Street at JVP and making them unacceptable positions within the Jewish community. This is what I mean when I say “dragging through the mud.”

    Sorry, but there is just no equivalence here. There isn’t a question of a doubt which of the three organizations has the mainstream Jewish community throwing its full force behind it (in addition to tons of other “pro-Israel” orgs such as ADL, Birthright, etc.). J Street and JVP are just trying to open the conversation.

  4. Jay


    I agree that most right-wing groups have a sort of misplaced apprehensiveness when it comes to groups like J-Street and JVP. However, as I’m sure you’re aware, those on the left share that same feeling when it comes to groups like AIPAC. Look at what you wrote and flip all of the group names to the other side (AIPAC to JVP, etc.) Congrats- you’ve just argued on behalf of BZA.

    Think about it, from your own statements, the implication is that you think groups like AIPAC should stop dragging groups on the left through the mud…and you make that point by dragging AIPAC through the mud. Maybe the problem doesn’t stem from one group/side of the political spectrum, but from individuals who don’t seem to practice what they preach?

  5. Lev

    I’m not convinced either way. I don’t think there is an empirical way to test it either. The goal isn’t along the lines of “oh man, if we interrupt Netanyahu’s speech he’ll realize the error of his ways and make peace!” That would be stupid.

    Rather I think the goal is to change the conversation.

    The right-wing has done a very good job of making it appear that the Jewish community is lock-step behind AIPAC. In parts of the Jewish world, J Street’s name has been dragged through the mud and back – even though their positions are extraordinarily moderate and pro-Israel. Some Jewish federations (including my own in the SF bay area) have attempted to “blacklist” any Jewish organization that advocates for BDS (such as JVP).

    These attempts at forcing everyone into the standard line on Israel don’t reflect the actual reality of the American Jewish community, that is to say people are divided. By disrupting the event, these activists made a strong point of saying that they will not be shut up (literally). They have not been offered a platform to speak anywhere else in the mainstream Jewish world, this is the ONLY way they can get their message heard by the mainstream Jewish world.

    Effective? I have no idea. But regardless, the mainstream Jewish community needs to accept that there are a multitude of opinions on Israel within the Jewish community, and this action may have helped some people realize that.

  6. Alex N.

    Give me evidence that their tactic worked. And before you dare come at this with an “all publicity is good publicity” argument consider that the ostensible goal of JVP is to build opposition to the occupation. Do you think they accomplished that through shouting down the Israeli prime minister? I feel like without even getting into right and wrong you can argue against tactics like this from the purely instrumental viewpoint. They don’t work.

  7. Jay

    “Asking them to hold back from that for the sake of politeness is insensitive.”

    …seriously? Come now, Sahar, that is a fairly insane comment even by your standards. Netanyahu was invited to speak. Asking people to, you know, actually let him do so is insensitive? To whom?