On Monday, 30 young, left-wing Diaspora Jews interrupted a speech by right-wing Israeli Finance Minister Naftali Bennett. The move is reminiscent of an earlier disruption of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s keynote address at the November 2010 General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America. There, members of the group Jewish Voice for Peace interrupted Netanyahu by chanting, “The occupation delegitimizes Israel” and “Settlements delegitimize Israel.”
As with JVP, the Bennett protesters insist they were attempting to promote conversation.
“We wanted to show in the most visible way that Naftali Bennett’s politics and his views aren’t shared by Diaspora Jews,” said Joshua Leifer, 19, one of the protest organizers. “We thought this action was the best way to catalyze the conversation in diaspora communities about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.”
Bennett, chairman of the hardline Jewish Home party, was the keynote speaker at an end-of-year event for Masa Israel, an umbrella organization for long-term study, internship and volunteer programs in Israel. Bennett opposes a Palestinian state, supports Israeli annexation of much of the West Bank and is the former head of the umbrella West Bank settlers’ organization, the Yesha Council.
The protesters were part of a group called All That’s Left: Anti-Occupation Collective, a group that opposes Israel’s control of the West Bank but doesn’t take a position on whether Israel should continue to be a Jewish state. Leifer said the group’s members range from liberal Zionist to anti-Zionist.
Leifer, who is studying at Bina, a secular yeshiva in Tel Aviv, said that he found out about Bennett’s speech two weeks before the event. He did not call Masa to voice his objection, though, and said that there was no organized campaign to try to cancel the speech.