Sunday, May 22, 2005

Chairman of Zionist Organization of America Heckles Israeli PM Ariel Sharon

Yes, in response to my last post, I did attend Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's speech at Baruch College this afternoon. This was Sharon's first visit to New York in four years and was, arguably, the Conference of Presidents' biggest event since the rally in Washington three years ago. The program was slated to begin at 1:30 but non-VIP attendees were to arrive around 11:30-12. The bottom tier of the 1,200 seat auditorium was filled to capacity at the UJC/Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations/UJA-sponsored event.

Sitting on the dais were (left-right) Jeff Weisenfeld (filling in for City University of New York president Matthew Goldstein), Harold Reiger, Morton Plant, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman, Immediate Past President of the Conference of Presidents and media mogul Mortimer Zuckerman, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Danny Ayalon, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, C of P Chairman James Tisch, Israeli Consul General in NY Aryeh Mekel, UJA President Morris Offit, UJA Chairman John Ruskay, and C of P Executive Vice Chairman Malcolm Hoenline.

Kol Zimra is developing quite a name, having sung in the White House for President Bush at his most recent Chanuka party and, today, singing Hatikvah (which, curiously, preceeded the Star Spangled Banner) and the national anthem for the audience with Gershon Veroba.

Also in attendence (not everyone, but some of the faces I recognized) was NY Jewish Community Relations Council President Michael Miller, Rabbi Simcha Kraus of the Young Israel of Hillcrest and former President of the Religious Zionists of America, Rabbi Yosef Blau of Yeshiva University/RZA, founder of the Republican Jewish Coalition George Klein, NY RJC director Greg Menkin, Yeshiva University President Richard Joel, Hebrew Union College President Rabbi Ellinson, and Chancellor of the Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary Rabbi Ismar Schorsch. Conspicuously absent were any elected officials on any level.

Under a banner with photos of an Israeli and American flag with the phrase "We Stand With Israel Now and Forever, "Weisenfeld spoke first, as a trustee of CUNY and mentioned that two Baruch students were selected as Rhodes Scholars. Additionally, the presidents of the three Jewish seminaries in NYC - YU, JTS, and HUC - were present and all spoke. Rabbi Ellinson of HUC said "the overwhelming majority of American Jewry stands with you in disengaging from Gaza." Joel focused on his institution's support of Israel, noting the parties that were held in honor of Yom Ha'atzmaut last week, the 3,000 alumni that have made aliyah, and that his campus of 3,000 students is the biggest pro-Zionist campus outside of Israel. Zuckerman said that while Jews are a fractious people and it is impossible to get unanimity, the overwhelming Jewish majority does support Sharon's plan. Tisch said that the C of P will support Sharon with a dedicated website, op-eds and one other thing that I missed in my notes. This is notable because up to this point the C of P has had too much internal turmoil to actually advocate the plan at all.

Finally, at 2:55pm, Sharon was introduced by Tisch. He said that he came from Jerusalem, "the eternal and undivided capital." This was greeted by his first round of applause. He said that "never again will we be defenseless and never again will we be held at the mercy of a hostile world." He focused mainly on the big issues (not the disengagement) that are confronting the global Jewish community, notably anti-Semitism, intermarriage, and assimilation, which he termed "a greater danger than ever." But, he said, the most serious responsibility we have is to protect the Jewish people. While a Diaspora Jew, individually, is not at risk, his/her community is and it's important to protect those communities as well as we protect the individuals. He continued, saying that "even if you choose to support Israel from abroad - don't wait too long." He said that we can be protected only if we strengthen aliyah and strengthen the education Jewish children receive both in Judaism and affiliating themselves with it and Zionism and affiliation with the State of Israel. He encouraged the leaders in the room to urge America's Jewish youth to take advantage of "birthright israel", Nefesh B'Nefesh, and a new program with the Jewish Agency called "Masa" in which students can spend up to one year studying in Israel (I've never heard of it but I'm sure more details will be available soon). He focused on aliyah and said that it is the committment of his government to bring one million more Jews to Israel within the next fifteen years.

He said that the disengagement plan will help provide for the security of the Jews in Israel. As a farmer he appreciates the progress they've made agriculturally, and as a soldier he appreciates the sacrifices they've made over the years. But the move is one that will improve Israel's security and will help him go towards the first step of starting a dialogue with the Palestinians towards peace.

At this point Dr. Alan Mazurek, Chairman of the Board of the Zionist Organization of America who resides in Great Neck, NY and Dr. Marvin Belsky, President of the ZOA's NY chapter who resides in Manhattan, stood up, removed their outer shirts to reveal their orange anti-Disengagement t-shirts, and shouted "Jews don't expel Jews" among other things. They were quickly shouted out and removed by one of the many security services there (NYPD, Secret Service, Israeli Secret Service etc).

It was as they got up that Sharon said that he'll never return to the 1967 borders or allow for the return of Palestinian refugees. I could not hear what else he said because Mazurek was two rows behind me and Belsky was at the end of my row (9th row, center!) making fools of themselves as Sharon kept talking, the latter clearly used to it from his speeches in the Knesset and obviously unphased by any of it.

Sharon continued, saying that the Road Map is the only way to peace and that he will never ever compromise on Israel's security. Here, he seemed to speak extemporaneously, and said that he even told this to the "friendly leadership of this nation, maybe the most friendly leadership we've ever had."

He said that "the coming period will be one of the most difficult we've known since its estbalishment but we will emerge strong and united." As he said this, he was interrupted by another two hecklers. The latter got expletives hurled at them for which Sharon said "thank you, I usually handle these things by myself." The hecklers were outcheered by those in the audience and almost violently removed in front of the news media that seemed to be salivating for a good photo.

Tisch, speaking after Sharon, apologized saying that, "The noisy minority does not reflect the view of the vast majority." This, too, was greeted with a standing ovation. Sharon was so moved that he came back to the lectern (Tisch said "I've never been interrupted by a Prime Minister before") and said that this was just another example of the fact that "one cannot defeat Jews. You can maneuver, you can try your best, but you cannot defeat Jews."

Most of the people inside were disgusted and embarassed by the hecklers who got inside and felt that even if one does support that position, there is a time and a place for everything. The protesters had their time, 1:00pm, and a place, right across the street, for their voices to be heard and their signs and bodies to be seen. Unfortunately the ZOA, a member of the Presidents Conference and a sponsor of the rally, felt the rally wasn't enough and shamelessly decided to embarass the visiting Prime Minister. You may not agree with the policies and you may not support the disengagment, but he's still the Prime Minister and he still deserves a modicum of respect.

As we exited the building we were greeted by light rain and loud chants of "Shame on You!" from several hundred protesters who were still assembled. According to police officers I asked, there weren't more than 1,000 people at any one time and, thank G-d, there were no arrests. That means that the protest organizers were wrong; they were not more people outside than inside. The crowd actually looked pretty pathetic though it looked as though at least half of Crown Heights was there; the Lubavitch are clearly against it.

The orthodox community was expected to come out in droves to register their disapproval of the plan. Many of my friends claimed they were going and I heard that there were large contingents of people from the 5 Tows/Far Rockaway area that were going to attend. It seems obvious that this did not happen. One reason might have been the poor weather. But a more likely answer was that while many in the community did know about it and planned on going, many such people were advised not to attend by their rabbis in sermons given in synagogue yesterday. Rabbis all over the NY-metro area, while against Sharon's plan, felt that the world community looking at such a protest would not grasp the nuances of the protest. It was not a protest against the State of Israel as most Niturei Karta demonstrations are; rather, it was a protest against a policy of the legitimate State of Israel. In an ideal world we wouldn't be concerned about this but we do not live in an ideal world and such things must be taken into consideration. However, this begs the question of how else can people register their disapproval to the plan?

Footage of Mazurek interrupting Sharon was aired on NBC's local affiliate here in New York City (WNBC) as well as NBC Nightly News. Perhaps now they're happy and they feel content that they acted on behalf of their friends in Gush Katif. Maybe they'll even post the footage of their Chairman embarassing the Israeli Prime Minister on their website for all to see. I fail to see how the chairman of a pro-Israel organization interrupting the Israeli Prime Minister on his first visit to New York in four years is beneficial to their cause or "pro-Israel."

Perhaps I'll have more later today or tomorrow but that's all for now.


Blogger orthomom said...

Thanks for the great run-down. Very thorough and well-written.

9:06 PM  
Anonymous Aylana said...

I'm disagreeing with you on this one- the fact that someone occupies an office does not obligate an audience to respect them. Saddam Hussein ran Iraq, Hitler ran Germany, Mao Tse Tung and Stalin were powerful leaders in their own right. I'm not drawing a direct comparison between Sharon and any of the above, however the very fact that he is the "Prime Minister" means nothing. He's still embarking on this dangerous, un-Zionistic, practically criminal route of evacuating and deporting Jews.
Hats off to his previous accomplishments, I'm with the ZOA hecklers here. What is unfortunate is how ineffective they were.

10:39 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chilul Hashem 101. What did they think they were going to accomplish by acting like idiots?

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dont say hitler and hussein in the same breath as sharon you moron

9:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Hats off to his previous accomplishments, I'm with the ZOA hecklers here. What is unfortunate is how ineffective they were. "


9:58 AM  
Anonymous Boaz said...

Michael, This is a great overview, it was very interesting to read, and I'm very impressed at how well-written it is. As to the ZOA hecklers they do not have a part in the nation of Israel, the chilul hashem and the extreme hatred between Jews they cause is unforgivable. Unfortunately a small group of people here in Israel, and it seems a few in the US too, are more focused on causing probably the worst "sinat achim" since the days of Rabbi Akiva's students then accepting the democratic decision of the Israeli people to save the lives of Jews. Even if these hecklers shed some of their own blood or their children’s blood on defending Israel (which they haven't), they still wouldn't have the right to embarrass our Prime Minister and leader. As to the dear commenter Aylana, the fact that he is Prime Minister means more than you think, the fact that he shed his blood to defend Jews means a lot, the fact that he is on a path to save even more Jews means a lot, and you sitting in the US claiming un-Zionism is like someone saying they are f**king for virginity. I really hope you are not Jewish, because your comment would be an insult to Jews and a chilul hashem, if you are Jewish, maybe you should take another 33 days of Omer to reflect the hatred you cause between us.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All I can say is , Boaz, you took the words right out of my mouth. I can't stand the fact that these people who call themselves "religious Zionists" don't know the true meanings of either of those words. If I were them, I wouldn't be able to sleep at night thinking about what a huge Chilul Hashem was caused and how poor of an example I set for my children, my community and all of Klal Yisrael.
Aylana- you can join those morons in the Hall of Shame

1:45 PM  
Anonymous esther from jerusalem said...

Thanks for the insightful and thorough description. We here in Jerusalem have been watching the goings on on the news and commentary programs all day, on our own and on Fox and CNN as well. The hecklers reminded me of a Zionist lecture I once heard. The lecturer said that we should think of the Jewish People as a play in the theatre. The Jews who live in Israel are like the actors. It is understandable that not everyone can or wants to be an actor. If a Jew cannot be on the stage, (live in Israel) the he can still be a member of the audience. (support Israel, give his children a Jewish and Zionist education, etc.) The most horrible thing that can happen during a theatrical performance is when some of the audience turns their back on the stage.(Jews who shame Israel and its leaders in front of its enemies) As a citizen and resident of Israel whose child rides two busses every day that have had bombs on them in the past and whose sons have served in the IDF, I was horrified by the spectacle I saw on t.v. It is not easy to live in Israel and we depend on those of you who can't to give us strength through your support. Today when I watched the news I was terribly saddened to see Jews turn their back on us because the Democratic State of Israel made a decision that they did not agree with.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Aylana said...

To anonymous: Mentioning people in "the same breath" does not connote a similarity in policy necessarily. In fact, had you read the comment, and I'm not sure that you have the capacity, you would have seen that I distinctly refused to compare them. As for the ZOA hecklers- I agree that they should be allowed to heckle. I don't think they should have done it in the manner that they did- it obviously wasn't executed all that well. Still, your replies to my post are somewhat immature, and again, indicate a lack of simple reading comprehension. I would say that calling names is beneath you, but I'm sure I'd be lying.
To Boaz: Nice post. I'm going to assume you're the tzanchan Michael wrote me about. I am causing no hatred between anybody, although you certainly seem a bit hostile. In fact, I don't think I personally attacked anyone in my post, while both you and anonymous are so filled with righteous rage and indignation that you felt the need to call me a moron. People in glass houses, motek...
To clarify for the uninformed: I hope that the difficulties and the rifts within Israeli society are healed as soon as possible. Just not through a forcible evacuation of Jews from their homes. With regards to Sharon's credentials, dear Boaz, you say that "the fact that he shed his blood to defend Jews means a lot" while at the same time saying that "even if these hecklers shed some of their own blood or their children’s blood on defending Israel" they would not have the right to protest. Employing a double standard because someone disagrees with your politics is kinda Bolshevik in nature, especially odd coming from someone who grew up in a country that ostensibly supports freedom of speech. Haven't yet had the chance to see what the ZOA-ers actually did, but I'm willing to bet it's no worse than an average day in the Knesset. Just think, if every MK had to behave according to your standards, Ruby Rivlin would be unemployed. Not that this is likely, but if I ever made Prime Minister in Israel you'd be free to heckle me at any time, although judging by your post I would never have to worry about protest from the likes of you. I could easily hide behind my title.
As to "fucking for virginity," I'm unacquainted with it. If you're referring to hypocrisy however, I'm sure I could stand to learn a few lessons from the Israeli Left.
Looking forward to any and all responses. This is a welcome reprieve from thesis work.

7:03 AM  
Anonymous Aylana said...

I'm going to call me on this before anyone else does.
My bad- Boaz didn't actually call me a name. he just hopes I'm not Jewish. Mea culpa, mea culpa... I suppose I would have gotten that right if I wasn't laughing so hard as I typed my reply.
A final substantive note: if you consider kicking Jews out of their homes, allowing for the further devlopment and spread of a terrorist infrastructure, and consideration of dividing Jerusalem less of a chilul Hashem than a few Jews kicking and screaming in protest... I agree with you in the sincere hope that we don't both observe the same religion.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael, your summary was really nice, I practically felt that I was sitting there myself. I am not going to give my opinion on the subject because I feel no need to encourage all of you fellow bloggers to comment as you already have. All I can say is that today I was at a protest for students in Israel and despite the fact that everyone there was anti-disengagement, when members of the Knesset (in favor of the disengagement) came to speak, the students were reminded to treat the speakers properly with respect and as soon as one student began to attack the speaker, all of the other students began to quiet him down. I am not writing this to support or to argue what happened while Ariel Sharon was speaking at Baruch College. I am writing this in response to all of your comments. One of you mentioned the Sinat Chinam that wiped out the students of Rabbi Akiva and 2 sentences later used vulgar language berating a fellow commentor. If we can not respect each other than how can we possibly expect the world to show any respect for the Jewish nation and the State of Israel?

1:22 PM  
Anonymous Mike (from israel) said...

*mike throws a can of orange paint at the internet*

4:42 AM  
Anonymous Hillel said...

Boaz: Considering your whole "sefirat ha'omer and sin'at achim" line, you may wish to remember that the actual death of R' Akiva's talmidim was caused by their partcipation in the Bar Kochba rebllion. It was an atrempt to regain sovereignty over Israel which cost the lives of tens of thousands of Jews, but it was also a rebellion that failed because Jews betrayed other Jews. (That is, presumably, the "sinat achim" referred to in the sources). I'm not saying what this means in terms of Sharon's plan, but to invoke the dead of Bar Kochba in support of leaving parts of Israel is a historical contradiction.
Final note: Disengagement may be good or bad, but leave halachic pronunciations out of it. "Sinat achim" and "chilul hashem" have very specific meanings and should not be bandied about whenever someone publicly disagrees with you.

11:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cant wait till sand niggers kill each other.

12:04 AM  

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