NEW YORK (Jan. 16)
Screaming “collaborator,” “bitch” and “exterminate the Arabs,” a handful of hecklers managed to foil a heavy security detail and turn a Middle East discussion at New York’s 92nd Street Y into a scene out of the “Morton Downey Jr. Show.”
The main target of the heckler’s venom Thursday night was the program’s moderator, Rita Hauser, who was one of the five American Jews who met with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat Dec. 7 in Stockholm.
Her appearance at the Y, planned months in advance of the Stockholm talks, sparked a protest outside the community center by about 25 members of the Manhattan region of the Zionist Organization of America and affiliated groups.
They carried signs reading “Abu Rita,” and distributed copies of photographs of Hauser alongside Arafat.
But the four hecklers sitting in various parts of the crowded auditorium identified themselves only as representatives of a blunt philosophy rejecting the PLO and calling for the expulsion or “extermination” of the Arab inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Most of the other audience members expressed open outrage that the protesters were not ejected from the hall, despite heavy security. Audience members were searched with metal detectors before the event, a rarity for the Y.
Building personnel approached the hecklers a number of times, and a policeman was seen at the back of the hall. But the four, including a middle-aged woman, remained in their seats and in strong voice for the entire 90-minute program.
There were shoves and near fistfights in the lobby after the program ended, and one of the hecklers declared loudly that he would sue the Y security guard who “hit him with a blackjack.”
Surveying an early melee, Thomas Friedman, participating in the discussion as former Jerusalem bureau chief of The New York Times, said facetiously, “I spent five years in Beirut. Who thought I’d meet my end at the 92nd Street Y?”
Susan Glass, director of marketing and public relations at the Y, said Friday that “by and large, if we can succeed in making them stop heckling we leave them alone.”
However, as a result of Thursday night’s incident, she said, “we are going to have a serious talk internally about what to do in a case like this.”
Hauser is scheduled to moderate a second program in the series this week.
In between the shouting, the speakers did manage to discuss the billed topic, “Prospects for Peace in the Middle East.” Panelists included Friedman; Ze’ev Schiff, military analyst for the Israeli daily Haaretz; and Lewis Lapham, editor of Harper’s Magazine.