The heckling came in well-coordinated waves. As Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to a packed ballroom of 300 delegates Monday in New Orleans at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, the first protester started shouting, forcing the Israeli prime minister to stop. Security personal grabbed the protester and rushed him out of the room.
If they came to delegitimize Israel, Netanyahu said, they came to the wrong address. The crowd erupted in applause
The pattern repeated itself four times in the course of Netanyahu’s half-hour speech. Each time the prime minister returned to the rhythm of his major annual address to north American Jewry, another single protester stood up and shouted. Security rushed each of the obstructionists out as the crowd chanted “Bibi, Bibi,” in approval.
The constant interruptions were the same tactic anti-Israel protesters had used against Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren during a speech at the University of California, Irvine last February. Constant shouts and catcalls eventually drove his remarks to a stop.
Though the protesters Monday at the General Assembly used the same strategy, there was a marked difference: Where the protesters in Irvine identified themselves as Muslim students, these protesters were young Jewish college students who see themselves as representing the best interests of Israel.
“What were they against?” one Israeli journalist in the audience asked rhetorically. “The loyalty oath? The occupation? Gaza? Most Jews would agree with them.”
For many, the drama echoed the GA in Boston in 1969, when Jewish college students held a sit-in that actually shut down the GA business. Monday’s protest was just the second time the GA had faced that level of dissent.
In comments to the press, the ejected protesters sounded like a younger generation of Jewish activists, rather than the often anti-Semitic protesters who make up left-wing anti-Israel movement.
These protesters, who worked their way into the GA by virtue of being Jewish college students—the GA’s organizers have boasted of the 700 college students participating in what is usually a generally older skewing conclave—are not questioning Israel’s legitimacy, but rather specific policies. They see a moral urgency in questions of Israeli policy that the mainstream of American Jewry is content to seeworked out at a pace of the Israeli government’s own choosing.
“Hey, we talk about getting the younger generation involved in Israel,” said one GA attendee. “Here they are.”