We would not have had to interrupt Netanyahu if the world listened to Palestinian voices

Picture 5
Screenshot from Israeli news of Ratner being removed from the General Assembly.

There’s no getting around it:  What we did during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech was shockingly rude.  We interrupted a head of state, repeatedly, shouting from the tops of chairs into a darkened hall of largely like-minded people, who most likely thought their space was safe from the ever-increasing disruptions of “Israel’s delegitimizers,” as some would call us.  Worse still, we did this in my community.  Neighbors, co-workers, professors, and fellow students were in attendance, or they’re otherwise finding out what we’ve done.  My cheeks are still burning at the thought of what’s to come.  And, of course, there’s family.  Family.  Family.

But each time I think about the hurt I’ve caused with my actions, I’m reminded of the hundreds upon hundreds of New Orleanian Palestinians who have marched this city’s streets, demanding justice in a nation that isn’t listening.  I’m reminded of the dozens of Palestinians who stood outside of the Jewish Federations General Assembly on Sunday, braving the cameras of Israeli and US security, facing the very real possibility that because of their protest they’ll be permanently denied entry the next time they attempt to visit their homeland.  Their demonstration was featured for fifteen seconds on a single local news channel, and those Palestinian protesters have far more to risk than I do.  I am ashamed of the hurt I have caused people that I love, but I am overcome with the bravery of the millions of Palestinians who struggle daily to carve justice into a global structure that finds their very existence inconvenient and inappropriate.  I am doubled over by the reality of more than sixty years of displacement, of the state-sanctioned murder of so many mothers, sisters, brothers, and fathers; of homes destroyed, rebuilt, and destroyed again. Of checkpoints.  Of landlessness.  Of criminalized identity.  Of siege.  And I am pulled to my feet by the steadfastness of the people who are at the heart of this struggle.  From the Palestinians who remain incarcerated for the crime of protest, who have found themselves barred from home forever for the truths they’ve spoken, who have been shot down by soldiers as they held a rock, a Palestinian flag, a child.

The five of us who jumped onto our chairs on Monday and the others who worked hard to realize this effort have received an incredible wave of support from so many people around the world.  Young and older Jews alike have called, emailed, reposted, and in other ways embraced us for shouting truths that hurt their hearts daily.  Some Palestinian friends and their allies have celebrated this momentary injection into a “dialogue” that silences and criminalizes an entire people.  And while I’m proud of what we’ve done, our actions are a small, highly-documented moment in a long history of resistance, led by people who have risked and lost far more than we have, or will.  As we celebrate the possibilities that some are seeing in this moment, it feels important to remember where we’ve come from, and to think about how our history informs a responsible future.

Certainly there is a long history of Jewish resistance to injustice, and a specific history of Jewish resistance to the crimes our people have perpetrated in Palestine.  Many of us might not be willing to add our voices to the growing call for justice had we not, for example, read the diligently documented and painful histories of exiled Israeli scholar Ilan Pappe, or encountered the wisdom of elders like Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, who has been fearless in her demands for justice in Palestine.  As Jews we take inspiration from Israelis who demonstrate against the apartheid wall and housing demolitions, and the  shministim who have been incarcerated for refusing to serve in the IDF.  We draw strength from the fearless actions of young people like Emily Henochowicz, the college student who lost her eye to a deliberately fired tear gas canister in the wake of Israeli attacks on the Freedom Flotilla.  There is a proud and strong legacy of Jewish resistance that, while small, must inform our efforts as Jews who work for justice in Palestine.

There is also a beautiful and inspiring history of allies, and especially allies of color, who have been fearless in their demands for justice for the people of Palestine.  We can take inspiration from organizations like Incite! Women of Color Against Violence, who lost $100,000 in Ford Foundation funding for publishing their Palestine Points of Unity, and were thus inspired to literally write the book on the non-profit industrial complex. Or the incredible members of COSATU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, which has refused to unload Israeli ships and has shown the rest of the world what overcoming apartheid through true solidarity can mean.  There are the brave activists who join the International Solidarity Movement, risking their physical safety and even their lives in efforts to prevent and document incidents of Israeli violence against Palestinians.  Rachel Corrie, whose family is still struggling for justice from the Israeli government.  Furkan Dogan, the 19-year-old Turkish American who was killed along with eight others aboard the Mavi Marmara.  There are the millions of people around the world who take to the streets to demand justice for Palestine every time the Israeli government’s criminal actions hit a new low.

But most of all, there are the Palestinian heroes who have shown their allies how to struggle for justice.  Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians continue to inspire the world with their nonviolent and creative civil disobedience and protests, a method they’ve been employing for over sixty years.  The Boycott/Divestment/Sanctions National Committee (BNC) have offered a clear strategy for forcing the Israeli government to comply with international law, and we can see their strategy working within campuses, corporations, and governments around the world.  Families in Bil’in protest the apartheid wall weekly, and are regularly shot at and arrested.  Residents of Silwan in East Jerusalem continue to resist illegal housing demolitions and forced evictions.  Scholars and professors like Dr. Haidar Eid teach traumatized students in Gaza while offering us a remarkable analysis from behind the walls of an awful siege.  Edward Said and Ali Abunimah reframe the conversation about occupation, while poets like Mahmoud Darwish and Suheir Hammadlace words through the emotions occupation can make difficult to express.  Filmmakers like Annemarie Jacirproject the crimes of the past and present, as well as stunning visions of possible futures.  There are so many Palestinians who act and speak from a place of justice, patiently guiding us in solidarity efforts, but all too often their voices are distorted or completely lost in the haze of anti-Arab racism, Islamophobia and “Israel, right-or-wrong” lenses through which mainstream knowledge and experience are filtered.

Yes, what we’ve done is extremely rude.  But what’s far worse is the erasing of the people at the center of this struggle.  I understand why so many have called our actions inappropriate, but I don’t accept the idea that there is some better method available to us that we didn’t use.  I don’t accept the suggestion that we are silencing free speech when we disrupt an Israeli Prime Minister with calls for justice as he beats the drum yet again for war with Iran, or confronting delegitimizers, or whatever might next emerge from the ever-expanding grab-bag of “Israel’s Greatest Threat.”  But on one point I can agree with our detractors: This disruption never should have happened at all.

It shouldn’t take this kind of action to draw attention to these crimes.  The media should have cared this much about the dozens of Palestinians who marched outside the GA the day before Netanyahu arrived.  Palestinian voices should be heard, respected, and reflected in all coverage of Palestine.  The myriad examples of Palestinian nonviolence should be better known than those far fewer examples of violence that dominate Israel’s security narrative.  And Israel’s violence should be known fully, and properly contextualized.  Most of all, Palestinians should guide us in understanding how best to address the atrocities perpetrated against them.  Until that day comes, there will be no end to the “delegitimizing” of a country that seems determined to delegitimize itself.

Love and thanks to the folks who planned and executed this effort, and to Jewish Voice for Peace  Some of you are risking far more than I have, and I have great respect for that.  So much love and respect also for New Orleans Palestine Solidarity (NOLAPS)–I am so proud to know and work with you.

Emily Ratner is a student at the College of Law at Loyola University New Orleans.  She is a member of 
New Orleans Palestine Solidarity (NOLAPS).

Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 36 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. annie says:

    more tears first thing in the morning…tears of love and gratitude, tears of sorrow and tears of solidarity. do not ever feel ashamed dear emily. it is thru your strength and the strength of those who came before us whose shoulders we stand on and especially at the center of it all palestinian sumud that we will keep on until such time that peace emerges from this struggle.

    heart to you, w/all the gratitude i can muster.

  2. Jim Haygood says:

    The video of your protest, with Netanyahu’s magnified visage hectoring his zionist minions, reminded me of Apple’s iconic ’1984′ Macintosh commercial:

    link to youtube.com

    Emily R., of course, would be the brave lady slinging the sledgehammer at the droning Dear Leader and his ‘garden of ideology.’ ;-)

    I’m also reminded of those dramatic days in the autumn of 1989, when eastern Europeans were voting with their feet against their ossified, out-of-touch leadership, just days before the entire brittle facade collapsed.

    NOLAPS’ actions are an inspiration to us all. The sequenced outbursts of the protesters, to rising groans from the audience, were in the best tradition of New Orleans lagniappe — give ‘em more than they expected! The gift that keeps on giving, as it were.

  3. By ONLY adopting demonstration and not communication, you are asking to not be heard by the audience there.

    To focus on the international audience is fun, and you will get much encouragement by even seemingly sober and intelligent individuals, but it is also vanity in the two meanings of the term: self-advertisement, and inneffective.

    • It’s funny Richard how those who fight hardest to disrupt others, in turn are the most brutal in censoring dissent. Look at this website! So many comments are censored it’s laughable when they talk about free speech.

    • So, Witty, you will work from now until the next conference to get these guys a choice speaking slot at the plenary session? Cocktail reception to follow? Please, tell me how it goes. N49.

    • MRW says:

      The Cruise Director of Effective Protests is back with his wand, clipboard, and negative advice.

      • Shingo says:

        “The Cruise Director of Effective Protests is back with his wand, clipboard, and negative advice.”

        Yes so effective.

        Just look at all those who Witty has persuaded on this forum. I’ve lost count, there’s so many. And what about his awesome blog, so busy Witty has no time to post here anymore.

        Yes, this man lives and breathes success. What’s his secret?

        • Tom Pessah says:

          why do people think the most important thing solidarity activists need is a constant stream of (highly predictable) advice? you remind me of all those “athletes” who watch sports matches on TV – those with a remote in one hand and a beer in the other, who are constantly yelling at the players. Don’t be a couch potato – if you truly care about these issues, and you think you have good ideas, just roll up your sleeves and do something yourself!

        • Avi says:

          Tom Pessah November 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm

          why do people think the most important thing solidarity activists need is a constant stream of (highly predictable) advice?

          witless can’t help but behave like a child who’s run out of tricks as he makes excuses for ethnic cleansing.

    • Shingo says:

      “By ONLY adopting demonstration and not communication, you are asking to not be heard by the audience there.”

      So what do you care Witty. If they are not being heard, it’s no skin off your nose.

      “To focus on the international audience is fun, and you will get much encouragement by even seemingly sober and intelligent individuals, but it is also vanity in the two meanings of the term: self-advertisement, and ineffective”

      What really bothers you is they it has been very effective, and that irrelevant dinosaurs like you are being swept aside.

      Jealousy is a sin Witty.

  4. “family, family, family.”

    many, many people remain silent and anonymous because the reach of the Israel lobby is known and feared, and could harm the careers and futures of their children.

    The lives of Americans are negatively impacted by the acts of a thuggish foreign entity.

    • Citizen says:

      Pg: That’s no skin off a Witty back. Don’t bother him now though–he’s gazing at his flag on the post, remembering its Veterans Day. BTW, which thuggish foreign entity are you talking about, I get confused by Sarah’s lapel pin.

  5. pabelmont says:

    Witty – she does communicate. did you read this thing? And how do you propose she “communicate” otherwise? (Freedom of the press is most useful to the one who owns one. In the USA, that’s chiefly VERY, VERY RICH Zionists.)

    I hope people were marching outside to object and to educate. And speaking of communication and education, what’s this I hear about Zionist groups trying (or succeeding) to prevent (dare I say it?) COMMUNICATION from Ali Abuniah and othres who only wish to present their point of view?

  6. Ael says:

    BTW, Netanyahu is *not* head of state, he is head of government.

    Some really old geezer is currently head of state in Israel.

  7. Pixel says:

    When you have no choice, mobilize the spirit of courage. – Jewish Proverb

  8. Thank you so much Emily for your essay, and for your leadership.

    With all due respect to J Street, why are they relevant now, in light of the advent of YoungJewishProud/JVP? To analogize like it’s 1968: J Street: Hubert Humphrey -as- YoungJewishProud/JVP: Eugene McCarthy.

  9. MRW says:

    Emily, you done good. And the two paragraphs that start with Yes, what we’ve done is extremely rude. But what’s far worse is the erasing of the people at the center of this struggle. and It shouldn’t take this kind of action to draw attention to these crimes. The media should have cared this much are right on point.

    Nobody seemed to object when groups drowned out Ahmadinejad at Columbia U, nor did anyone hurl ‘rude’ epithets at those interrupting a head of state. So that dog don’t hunt.

    And Netanyahu now breezes into this country and addresses his constituents as if he were the President of the United States (making a case for more war involving US citizens, no less). He comes here and benefits from constitutional protections he won’t implement in his own country, and expects American citizens in whose name he acts to sit still and swallow it.

    So you did a good thing, Emily. You five showed some guts.

  10. True, but think of all the sheer monkey-wrenching fun involved in interrupting Bibi, and his ilk, and pissing him off that we would forego.

  11. yourstruly says:

    May the image of a brutal oppressor being interrupted by five young Jews (holding placards with the message that Israel delegitimizes itself) continue to haunt those who deny the existence of the very people whose homeland the settler-state Israel has stolen and now occupies. As for any hurt feelings on account of that disruption? Compared to what the apartheid settler-state Israel is putting Palestinians through, those who make so concerned about hurt feelings should count their blessings.

  12. tommy says:

    Spandau Prison must be rebuilt for mass murderers like Netanyahu, George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama.

  13. bijou says:

    Thank you so much for writing this, on top of for your brave actions. This is one of the most eloquent and moving statements on this issue I’ve read in a long, long time. Thank you for the gift of hope – hope that there is still room to speak the awful, dreadful, agonizing truth that must be said and acknowledged and remedied in order for any type of healing and joint future to be even remotely conceivable.

  14. Tom Pessah says:

    excellent response. The most people with privilege can do is to amplify the voices that are being ignored. Bravo!

  15. Citizen says:

    In a few decades will somebody write a book resurrecting the Goldhagen thesis by applying it to Americans, especially Jewish Americans like Richard Witty? “You know the Americans, they are either at your feet or at your throat”–St Saddam.

  16. Emily, it’s a start. Actions like this to do more to rescue Judaism from the horrors of Zionism than the millions of dollars the Zionist apartheid lobby spend trying to silence dissent like yours. Well done.

  17. Shmuel says:

    Thank you so much Emily (and all the the others), for your actions, your words, your commitment and your humility.

    Regarding being “rude”, I don’t recall any such qualms when the issue was Soviet Jewry. Cultural boycotts were OK too (protests against Bolshoi performances come to mind), and even aircraft hijackings (Dymshits–Kuznetsov – hailed as heroes in Zionist circles). So it’s not about rudeness, or legality or free expression. It’s about whether Palestinians have the same human rights as the rest of us. Don’t let them change the subject.

  18. I don’t cheer disruption when presented by those that support views that I support.

    I do cheer dedication, sobriety, and persuasion.

    The argument for equal Palestinian rights within a color-blind judiciary for all claims, is undeniable.

    As, the argument for self-governance and self-determination for those of “the Jewish people” that desire to live in Israel should be.

    When the agitation for equal Palestinian rights is co-mingled with agitation for the dissolution of Israel, a different argument is being presented.

    I OPPOSE the effort to dissolve Israel, unless enacted by consent (which is not the case currently, except in odd imaginations).

    I SUPPORT the effort to realize equal legal rights and social standing for Arabs/Palestinians and other minorities within Israel.

    Your talk is careless in a minefield, to not distinguish between revolution and reform.

    • Shingo says:

      You might not cheer disruptions when they support your views Witty, you just remain silent.

      As has been pointed out, if you can’t be persuaded after having had things explained to you for years on this forum, then your fellow Zionist nutters at the GA are beyond persuasion.

      “The argument for equal Palestinian rights within a color-blind judiciary for all claims, is undeniable.”

      And yet you deny it.

      “When the agitation for equal Palestinian rights is co-mingled with agitation for the dissolution of Israel, a different argument is being presented.”

      No it’s not. You simply use that as an excuse to ignore the argument and derail the debate by petty grievances of form over substance.

      “I OPPOSE the effort to dissolve Israel”

      No one has proposed it, so why pretend it;s an issue?

      “I SUPPORT the effort to realize equal legal rights and social standing for Arabs/Palestinians and other minorities within Israel.”

      No you don;t because you put Jewish nationalism above all of that.

      “Your talk is careless in a minefield, to not distinguish between revolution and reform.”

      There isn’t going to be any reform without revolution.

      • Citizen says:

        Witty’s always talking in the name of “the Jewish people.” What is peoplehood? Witty has never explained what he means by this abstraction. Does Witty think the protesters are not engaging in self-governing of the Jewish people? Is use of the term “the Jewish people” reminds me of factional use of the term “We the people” and “the American people” here in the USA. Both terms conceal more than they reveal. Hence all the flag waving and flag pins; emotion taking the place
        of rational empathy and hard analysis (applying universal ethical principles to actual facts). A key difference is that any use of “We the people” or “the American people” is limited to the people living within the borders the USA. In contrast, the use of “the Jewish people” covers all Jews living everywhere in the world, including anyone who identifies as a Jew, including all secular, agnostic, and atheist Jews, as well orthodox Jews who do not believe in the state of Israel (Truman’s 1948 provisional recognition designation). So what is “the Jewish State?”
        How does it differ from “the Jewish people?” Prior to 1948, the Jews were seen by themselves as a collective “portable nation” and Judiasm itself was described in such terms by many rabbis, especially Reform rabbis. Prior to 1948 many Jews viwed themselves as a “nation withn a nation,” meaning within any Gentile land they lived in. That was for them to know and discuss amongst themselves, and nobody else. So, again, what/who are “the Jewish people” Witty deems himself the spokesman for in his defense of “self-governance”? No matter what issues regarding Israeli policy are brought up on this blog, Witty, our perennial self-proclaimed “liberal Zionist,” resorts to defending those policies by claiming the right of the Jewish people to self-govern. Is the vague bridge between diaspora Jews and national-statist Israel what Witty means by Jewish peoplehood? Does Witty mean by the goal of Jewish peoplehood a mandate uber alles for continuity of Jewish history, Jewish future? That is certainly what the state of Israel states as its goal, its mission, its reason for being. Such a goal has always been the goal of diaspora Jews as a whole at least until the evolvement of modern secular states in the West, states gradually incorporating Enlightment principles, which raised a competitor, assimilation. The Melting Pot song of songs, which reached its zenith in the first half of the 20th Century in the USA. Today, Israel is on a mission to dilute the ranks of assimilated Jews, especially those born in the USA. What we have, it appears, is a Jewish civil war, a war between those Jews who recognize fully that the state of Israel is “a nation among nations” with the attendant rights and–responsibilities– of a post-Nuremberg sovereign state, and those Jews who advocate a unique nation among the nations of the world. But Jewish history is only a small part of World history, just as American history is only a small part of World history. And the World is getting smaller in every way, by the day. No state will last by turning itself into a giant armed ghetto, even with sympathetic landsmen/MOTs supporting it across the seas right or wrong. No man is an island, each is part of the main.

    • RoHa says:

      “As, the argument for self-governance and self-determination for those of “the Jewish people” that desire to live in Israel should be.”

      So you now agree that the idea of “self-governance and self-determination” for “the Jewish people” as a whole is nonsense! Good. Some progress made. But are you now restricting “self-governance and self-determination” to the Jews of Israel, rather than allowing it for the whole population of Israel?

      “I OPPOSE the effort to dissolve Israel, unless enacted by consent”

      Israel is an immoral enterprise. Immoral enterprises should be dissolved, whether those involved in the enterprise consent or not.

  19. MHughes976 says:

    Heckling is not discourtesy. Politicians should not be permitted the situation where they always speak and others always listen.

  20. MRW says:

    If you reverse Witty’s words, you have exactly what was supposed to happen in 1948 according to the British Mandate, but Jewish terrorist groups, the Irgun and Stern Gang, betrayed that:

    I OPPOSE the effort to dissolve Palestine, unless enacted by consent (which is not the case currently, except in odd imaginations).

    I SUPPORT the effort to realize equal legal rights and social standing for Jews and other minorities within Palestine. See the official docs: link to avalon.law.yale.edu