Student Union head criticizes ‘Rothschild Gang’

Itzik Shmuli says Daphni Leef’s comments have diminished support for social justice movement, students to lead protests from now on.

daphne leef stav shafir 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
daphne leef stav shafir 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Itzik Shmuli, head of the National Student Union, blasted social justice protest leader Daphni Leef on Wednesday, saying her comments have diminished support for the movement.
Shmuli vowed that the Student Union would lead the protests from now on.
Shmuli spoke during an interview with Army Radio on Thursday. He criticized Leef for the personal attacks she made toward Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during a press conference before this past Saturday night’s rally, saying that he distances himself from such statements entirely.
“Even if there are very serious differences of opinion with the prime minister on socioeconomic issues, to give him ultimatums and to scold him like a teacher is something that I simply cannot be a part of,” Shmuli said.
During the much-maligned press conference held by Leef last week, the 26-year-old Tel Avivian warned: “Prime Minister ‘Bibi’ [Netanyahu’s nickname], you are looking at a tired woman. But more than this, a determined and furious woman.”
Sitting next to an elderly Holocaust survivor and a high-school student, Leef told Netanyahu that his “time is running out,” and that “this is the last time I speak to you directly.”
Shmuli said, “Her words deterred a lot of people [from attending the protest]. There’s no place to talk about fatigue when you’re sitting next to a Holocaust survivor.”
When asked if he would take the leadership reins of the protests, Shmuli said, “Unequivocally.”
The movement needs to get beyond the street protest phase, he said. “The protest draws strength from protests, but it’s pointless to use them as an end in and of themselves. True, you must be in the streets, but also in the halls of the Knesset.”
In the days after the press conference, during the buildup to Saturday’s social justice rally in Tel Aviv, the first in two months, reports emerged of a rift between Shmuli and Leef. Though the Student Union would not comment on the report and a spokesman for the social justice movement denied there was a rift, Shmuli did not take part in the Tel Aviv protest, even though he had been a fixture at the mass rallies throughout the summer.
Shmuli spoke derisively of the “secret seven,” the group of activists who led the Rothschild tent city in Tel Aviv and were collectively considered the closest thing to a leadership of the movement.
Referring to them as “the Rothschild gang,” he said he had disagreements not only with Leef but with the rest of the Rothschild leaders, and that he had fought time and again with the activists to ensure that the Israeli flag and the national anthem would be present at the mass demonstrations.
“In my eyes, this struggle is driven by a love of the country and a desire to build our lives here. Therefore, in a place where there is no respect for the national anthem, and the state is called into question – the students will not be present, even if it means losing the struggle.”
Leef said on Thursday that she hadn’t heard Shmuli’s radio interview and she was disappointed to be called to give a response.
“This protest is much bigger than any particular person, it’s about each and every person who takes to the streets and takes part in it. It’s very unfortunate that people would call to get my response on this,” she said.
She accused the media of misreporting the number of people at Saturday’s protest, saying that as opposed to reports of 20,000 to 30,000 people at Rabin Square, there were 100,000 who came “in spite of the disaster in the South [the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip] and the rainy weather.”
The struggle has a long path ahead of it, and by focusing on perceived tension between individual members of the movement, the media is missing the point, Leef said.