Bay Area protesters heckle Netanyahu at Jewish federations conference

Two Jews from the Bay Area were among five protesters who heckled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Nov. 8 during his speech to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America, held in New Orleans.

During the speech, five Jewish American and Israeli protesters stood up and held banners denouncing Jewish settlements. Sheriff’s deputies escorted them out to a chorus of shouts and boos, and all were later released without charges.

One audience member took a protest banner left behind and ripped it with his teeth.

Matthew Taylor, a student at U.C. Berkeley, holds a protest banner prior to being removed from the hall where Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was speaking. photo/courtesy of matthew taylor

U.C. Berkeley student Matthew Taylor was one of the five. He told j. that “Israel is delegitimizing itself with its cruel and illegal policies. The mainstream American Jewish leadership has failed us young Jews by demanding uncritical, unthinking support of Israel regardless of how much Israel violates our deepest Jewish values of fairness and respect for one’s neighbor.

“We insist on true equality between Israelis and Palestinians, so both people can live in dignity and safety.”

The hecklers, members of the Young Leadership Institute of Jewish Voice for Peace, stood up and shouted at different times during Netanyahu’s speech to the Jewish Federations of North America.

Rae Abileah, a 28-year-old protester from San Francisco, shouted “The settlements betray Jewish values” as she was grabbed by Orleans Parish sheriff’s deputies and pulled out of the hall. She said a man sitting in front of her tried to stuff a seat cover into her mouth to silence her. Audience members pushed a male protester and cursed at him after he interrupted the prime minister’s speech.

Netanyahu accused the protesters of joining those who believe “Israel is guilty until proven guilty.”

“The greatest success of our detractors is when Jews start believing that themselves. We’ve seen that today,”  Netanyahu told the assembly.

The speech and protest took place on the same day the Israeli government announced it would move ahead with hundreds of new housing units in disputed east Jerusalem.

The prime minister’s visit comes at a delicate moment in Mideast peacemaking, when the U.S. is working hard to get Israel to slow down settlement activity so that fledgling negotiations can have a chance.

Israel’s Interior Ministry sought to play down the significance of the new Jerusalem housing, saying actual construction could be years away. But the announcement cast a shadow over Netanyahu’s visit, during which he is conferring with U.S. officials over how to revive peace talks.

In his address, Netanyahu said Palestinian leaders need to stop “making preconditions.”

He said Israel is eager to talk peace, but that it was counterproductive to “waste our time arguing about marginal issues that will not affect the peace math in any way.”

That comment was likely a reference to his contention that much of the settlement activity — including the east Jerusalem projects discussed Nov. 8 — is taking place on lands that will probably remain in Israeli hands in any final peace deal.

Palestinians contend that all Israeli building on lands they claim for a future state is unacceptable. They are threatening to walk away from peace talks, restarted just two months ago, unless Israel agrees to renew curbs on West Bank settlement construction that expired in September.

An Israeli Interior Ministry official, Efrat Orbach, said Nov. 8 his government was moving ahead with plans to build nearly 1,300 apartments in east Jerusalem, where Palestinians hope to place their future capital. The announcement drew a harsh response from the State Department, which called it “deeply disappointing” and “counterproductive to our efforts to resume direct negotiations between the parties.”

J. staff writers Dan Pine and Amanda Pazornik contributed to this report.