Bibi’s heckler: To seize or not to seize?

Bent on sabotaging the PM's address to Congress, one woman may have got more than she bargained for when her disruption ironically became a testament of the values Israel shares with the US.

Bibi's Heckler (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bibi's Heckler
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Halfway through Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint session of Congress on Monday, I was confronted by a moral dilemma. A woman protester two seats away from me had infiltrated the speech, pulled out a red anti-Israel flag, and started hurling curses about Israel. The elderly gentleman to my right, whom I had been talking to just before the speech started, pulled the flag out of her hands and assisted in subduing her by cupping his hands over her mouth,. I asked myself, should I have helped?
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At AIPAC the night before, Bibi’s speech had been disrupted seven times with multiple protesters making it almost impossible for him to continue. This follows an extensive effort on campuses worldwide for Israel-haters to heckle repeatedly, making it all but impossible for any Israeli official to speak. Clearly these efforts make a mockery of the entire principle of free speech.
In this case, a protester had not merely infringed on a college gathering, but had infiltrated the inner sanctum, the United States House of Representatives - the very repository of American freedom and representative democracy. The heckler’s intention was to deny the democratically elected leader of the Israeli people the right to address the elected representatives of the American people. She could have released her venom in any one of countless open forums, but instead she chose to deny Israel its voice.
So should I have participated in muting her? I had a split-second in which to decide.
Flashing through my mind as hands grabbed her from all sides were all the protesters against Israel that I had encountered in my eleven years as Rabbi at Oxford University. Twice we hosted Bibi at the university and both times hundreds of Palestinian students had been bussed in from all over the UK just to disrupt his speech. As I walked the chamber of the Oxford Union with Bibi at my side, hundreds of agitators thundered, “Netanyahu you should know, we support the PLO.” Wow, it even rhymed. Netanyahu left his police cordon and walked over to the protesters and invited them in, promising that they would be called on to ask questions. A significant number joined us and he responded patiently to their pointed barbs.
When my guest was former prime minister Ariel Sharon, a huge throng of protesters arrived, a significant number of whom were Jewish. They made no noise. Rather, caked in fake blood they pointed at Sharon silently as he walked into the Union. He made the same gesture, walking over to some of the protestors, while never letting go of his wife’s hand, and inviting them in to participate. Once again, many did and Sharon made sure to call on them during questions. The exchanges were hard-hitting but civil and all who witnessed it felt it had been a victory on both sides for free speech.
But all that has changed now. The Israel critics on campus have turned into Israel-haters, interested not in voicing any view but in delegitimizing Israel utterly and rendering it incapable of defending itself.
My mind now raced back to the heckler from Code Pink, who turned out to be Jewish, right in front of me in Congress. She was now horizontal as various gallery attendees attempted to neutralize her disruption. The prime minister had stopped his speech. Should I intervene before security could get there?
I decided not to. Firstly, it seemed to me that the Capitol police had plenty of contingencies for this kind of scenario and were far greater experts than me. Second, I could just imagine the headlines the next day: “Rabbi accosts protester in Congress.” Or worse: “Author of Kosher Sex grabs woman in US House” or “Rabbi Shmuley all over woman in spectator gallery” (okay, I jest about the last two, but you get the picture). I decided that the image of a Rabbi participating in grabbing a protester, the circumstances notwithstanding, was exactly the kind of image these protesters wanted. They want to delegitimize the Jewish people in general and the State of Israel in particular. They want to perpetuate the lie that rather than Israel and Jews being people of benevolence and goodwill who have been forced to defend themselves against repeated attack, the Jews are now the aggressors. So I stood by as plain-clothed police immediately rushed in from every angle, grabbed the protesters, and pulled her right by me.
Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly recovered and remarked that the idea of a protestor heckling in the Arab parliaments of Iran or Libya and surviving unharmed was impossible. The irony is that the entire episode only served to highlight the special relationship between the United States and Israel through their shared values. The fact that one of the most powerful men in the Middle East can sit in front of the most powerful assembly on earth and be heckled and disrupted by a hate-filled agitator and simply make light of it as the woman is being escorted out of the chamber unharmed, speaks volumes. It pays homage to two incredible societies dedicated to the worth and dignity of every human being, even a perceived enemy. Even a person who denies basic civility to Israel’s elected leader is protected under the rule of law. She may be charged with an offense but it is still within the framework of a society that protects her rights too.
In his brilliant and impassioned AIPAC speech, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Israel’s most able defender and its greatest friend in the US government, purported that it is not the 1967 borders that divides the Palestinians and Israelis, but rather the two cultures’ differing values; specifically the Palestinians’ growing culture of death versus the Israeli culture of life. The Palestinians name public squares after terrorists. Mothers ululate when their sons blow themselves up on buses, taking little children with them. They teach their children in kindergarten and schools that Jews are hook-nosed and wicked. Meanwhile the Israeli government trades hundreds of terrorists in return for being able to bury their fallen soldiers with dignity. It also gives every Arab-Israeli citizen full human rights and has conceded massive amounts of land in the slim hope that the Palestinians will be sincere in their wish for peace.
As a Jew and a Rabbi, I have encountered Islamophobia and indeed fought against it. I have repeatedly written and preached in front of tens of thousands of Jews and Christians that Islam is a great world religion that took Jews in when they were kicked out of Catholic Spain and Portugal. I am constantly inspired by everyday Muslims I meet in the US who observe Halal, fast on Ramadan, and take their religion seriously. So it is with great sadness that I am witnessing the growing emphasis on violence – especially against Jews – become commonplace among so many of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.
Former prime minister Golda Meir formulated the prescription in resolving the conflict when she famously said, “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.”
Perhaps one day the female protester who was dragged away in front of my eyes will love the Arabs more than she hates Israel. Perhaps then, she’ll direct her protest against the Arab societies that participate in honor killings against young women, or that hang gays, or that deny our Arab brothers and sisters the basic right to protest without fear of death.The writer, known as “America’s Rabbi,” is the international best-selling author of 25 books and is currently establishing The National Center for Universal Jewish Values. His most recent book is Renewal: A Guide to the Values-Filled Life. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.