In September ’11 I had a post on hecklers, in which I expressed my loathing of them. I hate hecklers. Except in certain circumstances, when I like them. À propos, The Times of Israel has an op-ed by Joshua Leifer, a late teen American on a gap year in Israel, explaining why he interrupted—in effect, heckled—a speech by Naftali Bennett, Israel’s up-and-coming far right politician and cabinet member. As Leifer explains
I interrupted Naftali Bennett’s speech because I could not allow him to pass off his fully fleshed-out plan for apartheid as a seemingly benign blueprint for stability. I could not sit idly while MASA Israel hid his insidious intentions to disenfranchise millions [of Palestinians] behind the smiling apolitical façade of the end of the year event. I could not watch as the organizers of the event portrayed his colonialist, jingoistic, and racist ideology as a mainstream political position.
The event was not a public talk but an event organized by MASA Israel for young non-Israeli Jews in the country
MASA Israel, without providing an alternative voice or giving context to Bennett’s role in the continuing occupation, shamelessly promoted Bennett as the event’s central speaker. His time as Director of the Yesha Council was listed on the invitation, which was sent out to thousands of diaspora Jews on gap years and study abroad programs, without any mention that the Yesha Council is the organization of settlements in the West Bank. He was introduced as leader of Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) political party without any allusion to its political orientation. MASA Israel had planned for Bennett to simply ascend to the stage as any other leader, without any mention of the nature of his political commitments.
Bennett represents a dangerous combination of the entrepreneurial, problem-solving ethos of neoliberalism with a totalitarian disregard for civil rights. Failing to bring this to the attention of the hundreds if not thousands of MASA participants who attended the event would have constituted a moral failure. And as someone deeply concerned with the ethical character of the Jewish people and the state of Israel, I felt obligated to speak out in any way I could – not just to voice my opinion, but to finally get the conversation going.
The heckling could be justified here, as this was not a public event for adults but one targeted at a young, presumably impressionable audience, with an extremist politician—likely unknown to most of those attending—receiving top billing and no one there to contradict him. So good job, Joshua!
BTW, I’ve given talks to gap students—American kids just graduated from high school, and who have been admitted to top universities—on several occasions at one of the places I teach. They’re the brightest, most impressive group of 18-19 year-olds one will meet. Joshua Leifer would definitely be among them (take a look at his blog). Students like these make teaching a pleasure.