Why I disrupted Bibi’s speech – A response to Ben Sales at New Voices

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Taylor TheOccupationDelegitimizesIsrael
Taylor protesting Netanyahu in New Orleans.

Ben Sales, editor of New Voices, posted a lengthy critique of the protesters who disrupted Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the General Assembly. Here’s my response, which I submitted as a comment to his blog:

As one of the protesters who was dragged out – I was chanting “The Occupation Delegitimizes Israel” – I’d like to respond to a few of your remarks, and shed light on my motivations. (I will not attempt to speak for JVP, my fellow protesters who interrupted Netanyahu, or the dozen young Jewish activists who worked to make it possible).

It seems to me that Israel is on a suicidal course to impending self-destruction, a catastrophic road that will lead to ruin for both the Palestinian people and the Jewish people. Israel’s institutionally insane, greedy policies of land theft, settlement construction, house demolitions, settler-only roads, and so on are not only oppressing the Palestinian people in a horrific manner, these policies are also causing hatred of both Israel and of the Jewish people. A friend of mine who served many years in the IDF said to me, “the single greatest threat to the Jewish people today is the occupation.” Not Iran. Not the so-called “delegitimizers.” The occupation.

I chose to participate in the action at Netanyahu’s speech because I see very few options today to get this vital message out to both Jews and to the world. As you well know, the American Jewish Establishment (see Beinart’s article in the New York Review of Books) has created a McCarthy-like environment in which any real dissent against Israel’s policies is silenced in extremist fashion. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have been called a “self-hating Jew” for the simple fact that I believe major Israeli policy change is in the best interest of the the Israeli people and the Palestinian people. Ironically, I believe that it is those who defend Israel reactively regardless of its policies, and who tar and feather people like me with these despicable labels, are the ones who put the Jewish people at risk by enabling Israel’s suicidal and oppressive policies.

So anyway, where are we supposed to speak? There is no space for us. The General Assembly had zero space for our message. If we’d proposed a workshop entitled, “How are the occupation, settlements, house demolitions, and settler-only roads delegitimizing Israel?” I can assure you the GA leadership would never have approved it. The GA is a space for 100% pro-Israel cheerleading and pro-Israel brainwashing propaganda and nothing else.

At the GA, I had a number of casual conversations with attendees and came to the belief that those drawn to the GA are largely those who have yet to seriously question the “Israel: Right or wrong” echo chamber effect created by American Jewish Leadership. If one were to attempt to discern the views of young Jews about Israel solely from a survey of GA attendees, one might believe that young Jews are uncritically supportive of Israel, and Peter Beinart was wrong.

But from my conversations in the wider world, I believe the GA is not at all representative of the young Jews broadly, and that the GA attendance skewed very right wing. Of course it did — do you think the GA’s organizers would send invitations to the numerous young Jews, nationwide, who are members of Students for Justice in Palestine, and who advocate for various forms of boycott, divestment, and sanctions? And even among the right wing GA attendees, the admirers of Bibi who I spoke to, I heard a lot of pain and struggle with the dissonance. One self-described Republican Hillelnik told me something like, “Israel is absolutely an apartheid state – come on, it’s obvious, of course it is – but I would never admit that in a public discussion about Israel, because I don’t want people to think Israel is so bad.” Another young Jewish college student told me that while she loves Bibi, she hates what Israel is doing to the Palestinians in the West Bank, and she doesn’t know how to reconcile those feelings. These kinds of unsettling internal contradictions, privately held on the young right, provide a potential for more awakenings and more young Jews to join the ever growing tidal wave of young Jewish moral dissent that is heading for major confrontation with the paranoid, desperate, and deeply misguided American Jewish Establishment.

When I stood to unfurl my banner and chant my slogan, my first goal was to get a message out to the larger world. It is important to me to be in solidarity with my Israeli and Palestinian brothers and sisters who are engaged in nonviolent struggle against the crimes of the occupation every single day in Palestine (for example, Bil’in), and getting this dissent into the media I think is ultimately helpful to the cause of pressuring Israel to change. Given the media firestorm that ensued, I believe this tactic was successful.

As far as persuading people in the room — this was a secondary goal. Did we win hearts and minds? I think many people felt alienated by what we did. I saw one young woman crying, she was so upset that her beloved Bibi’s speech had been disrupted. I felt genuinely sad about that and wished I could have done something to help her with her pain. But the truth is downright painful and when you love a family member you have to be honest with them. What serves an alcoholic more – smiling while they brag about their plans to go to the bar with your money to get drunk, or performing an intervention and telling them in no uncertain terms they have to get into rehab? Israeli columnist Gideon Levy has called Israel an alcoholic who is drunk on settlement expansion and colonization of the West Bank. I believe U.S. Jews must perform an “intervention,” cut off Israel’s supply of guns and bombs and bulldozers that it uses to confiscate Palestinian land, and get Israel into a rehab program of equality, peace, coexistence.

What we did, I think, was one part of that “intervention.” We got a truthful message out in the face of extreme, highly self-deluded power. And given the fact that a dialogue ensued among Jews about our message on this and other sites, and that we got so much media attention, I think the tactic was effective. Boycott, divestment, and sanctions is another part of the nonviolent intervention to persuade Israel to change.

As for a positive vision, I have one word for you: Equality. Israel from its founding has been based on inequality, and inequality has been growing more over the years. I support any political program based on equality between Israelis and Palestinians, and I oppose any political program based on inequality. There are many different ways the Israel/Palestine conflict can be addressed based on equality. You can have a two state solution based on equality, a one state solution based on equality, a six state solution based on equality (Johan Galtung’s proposal for a Middle East Community, modeled after the early versions of the EU).

Today in Israel, we have a one state solution based on extreme inequality and extreme oppression. Our voices at Bibi’s speech called for change, and I stand by our actions.

P.S. – Last time I checked, JVP does not advocate for one state or two state, but for international law, human rights, and equality. Check the website, the position is clearly stated.

For the peace that can only come from True Equality,


About Matthew Taylor

Matthew A. Taylor is co-founder of PeacePower magazine, and author of "The Road to Nonviolent Coexistence in Palestine/Israel," a chapter in the book Nonviolent Coexistence.

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