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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Knesset forums disrupted for 2nd year

Published: March 30, 2012
Section: Featured, News

Five Israeli Knesset members participated in a town-hall style meeting at Temple Emanuel in Newton on Monday evening. For the second year in a row, members of Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) interrupted the Ruderman fellow event in protest, this time shouting, “Israel is an apartheid state and the Knesset is an apartheid parliament.”

On a campus where members of the American Jewish community and university alumni and supporters care deeply about student politics related to the Middle East conflict, the protest, though brief in its disruption, produced negative media coverage in leading Israeli and American Jewish newspapers. This was the third such pro-Palestinian protest at a Brandeis University-affiliated event with leading international political officials in the past three years.

“It’s not like they wanted to engage in discussion. They wanted to use the event to make a statement,” Ruderman Family Foundation President Jay Ruderman ’88, who organized and sponsored the program, said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I really don’t think it reflects on Brandeis.”

Uniformed police officers and private security guards escorted the students and other activists out of the sanctuary at Temple Emanuel. One student was arrested, according to a press release sent on Tuesday with video of the protest from Brandeis SJP.

Elisha Baskin, a member of Brandeis SJP explained the reasoning behind the protest in a statement.

“Legislation sponsored by Mr. Akunis, Ms. Kirshebaum and Ms. Shemtov suppresses legitimate activities of human rights organizations operating in Israel and Palestine,” Baskin said. “They and their political parties are responsible for numerous apartheid policies carried out by the state of Israel and I feel students should hold them accountable when they speak at a university event.”

Ruderman founded the program last year, bringing Israeli politicians to the United States for a week of meetings with local, education, government and advocacy leaders to educate them about the views and concerns of the American Jewish community.

The Knesset members and 2012 Ruderman fellows—Ofir Akunis, Likud; Ilan Gilon, Meretz; Fania Kirshenbaum, Yisrael Beitenu; Raleb Majadele, Labor; and Lia Shemtov, Yisrael Beitenu—joined President Fred Lawrence, Ruderman and Israeli Consul-General to New England Shai Bazak at an opening lunch on Sunday.

The town hall was held at Temple Emanuel this year to accommodate a larger audience, Ruderman said.

Senior Vice President for Communications Andrew Gully said the student protest reflects the view of only a small group of students, noting that the remainder of the event produced respectful discussion.

“It is regrettable that the Brandeis student protesters, as well as adults with no connection to the university, caused some MKs and other members of the audience discomfort,” Gully said in a statement. “Ten or 12 voices on any subject do not represent ‘Brandeis,’ as some media accounts would lead people to believe.”

At the Ruderman town hall meeting in Levin Ballroom last year, when Knesset Member Avi Dichter stood up to speak behind a podium, about a dozen Brandeis students, including many from the organization Brandeis SJP, began to protest, shouting that Dichter was guilty of war crimes and should be arrested for violations of international law.

The students passed out fliers to the audience, shouted in Hebrew: “Don’t worry Avi Dicther, we’ll meet you in the Hague,” and then exited the ballroom.

In November 2009, when Richard Goldstone, head of the U.N. Fact Finding Mission for the Gaza Conflict, and former Israeli Ambassador Dore Gold participated in a campus forum to discuss Goldstone’s report on the 22-day 2008-2009 Gaza War, students silently stood up with signs taped to their backs to protest the report.

This week, Seth Grande, a member of Brandeis SJP referred to Israeli policies as an occupation in a press release.

“Israel needs to end its project of colonial occupation in Palestine and stop discriminating against its Palestinian citizens,” Grande said in a statement. “As long as Israel maintains its discriminatory policies, I, as a Jewish American, will not stay silent.”

Gully said that the protest this year did not retract from the successful discussion among the Knesset members.

“Over the next 88 minutes, more than 600 people—including many Brandeis students—sat respectfully and with great interest and heard the members of the Knesset discuss myriad topics with insight, candor, collegiality and humor,” he said.