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Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Weimar Republic era tactics of the "anti-Israel" protesters
Anti-Israel thugs and rowdies in Britain disrupted a broadcast music concert,  just because the musicians were Israeli, and the group was called the Jerusalem String Quartet:

Their lunchtime concert at the Wigmore Hall on Monday got off to a wonderful start, with Mozart's late Quartet in D, K575. But then a shrill voice started some fortissimo yodelling in the back of the hall. After a few bars the four musicians, looking utterly shocked and dismayed, gave way and came to a halt. The rogue soprano was removed, and the live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 was, I gather, suspended...Then an elderly upper class lady stood up and started shouting about how the Jerusalem Quartet were really paid agents of the Israeli government, and complicit in genocidal atrocity. The music came to a halt again. 'What do you want us to do?' inquired the cellist Kyril Zlotnikov, mournfully. 'Of course we get nothing from the Israeli government' said the much-fancied violist, Amihai Grosz: 'we just play music.'
A brief pause and back to Mozart, everyone worrying whether there were more musical terrorists in our midst, and wondering what their plans might be: maybe throwing bottles next time, smashing musical instruments, a little hand-grenade, or just breaking a few string-playing fingers … . In the event there were three further interruptions – two in the Mozart and one in the Ravel – and the mutilated concert ended half an hour late with a passionate expression of support for the unlucky musicians.

The anti-Israel activity is not confined to counter-demonstrations and university apartheid weeks. It runs to disrupting meetings and beating people up, and increasingly, it seems to be running to violence. In Concordia University, rioting forced cancellation of a speech by Benjamin Netanyahu a decade ago:
Protesters threw chairs and other objects at police, who responded with tear gas. By the time the smoke had cleared, the university's main lobby was littered with broken glass and chairs.

That was a harbinger of things to come.  In 2004, Concordia forced cancellation of a speech by Ehud Barak because  "[W]e do not at present have a locale on campus that can reasonably be made sufficiently secure for such an event."  Concordia authorities covered their criminal negligence with a lot of pious verbiage, which was intended to hide their outrageous contention that it is not possible to make a university safe for a talk!

Just recently, an organized "hijacking" by thugs of the Muslim Students Union ruined an appearance by Israel Ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California at Irvine ( (See MSU planned wrecking of Ambassador Oren's speech at UC Irvine). And then in Canada, Jewish pro-Israel activists were beaten and attacked with a machete (See Machete attack by 'anti-Zionists' - an example of free debate at universities?)    This is yet another example. It is obvious  that like the interference with Ambassador Oren's speech in UC Irvine, this was an organized effort and not "spontaneous."

Soon, it may not be possible to have an Israel-related event anywhere in the world outside Israel without attracting the attention of organized thugs and hecklers.

"Counter-demonstrations" and civilized protests are not effective against this sort of organized thuggery.

There is an element of rowdiness and violence in almost every political protest movement. Where do we draw the lines between legitimate protest, over-enthusiastic and angry proponents of a cause and planned hooliganism? The anti-Vietnam war protesters, for example, sometimes took over university administration buildings. Protests got pretty violent.

The line apparently runs between disruptive tactics directed at institutions and violence and disruption aimed at private individuals or groups. Organized heckling of an ambassador is ugly and wrong, but it is not the same as beating up students or heckling artists who don't represent any government, or issuing death threats against artists. Trashing a university because they cooperate with the draft is not the same either as trashing a university in order to prevent a speaker from presenting their views, and in order to send a message to students who might dare to support those views. Vietnam era protesters didn't go around beating up pro-war students.

The "protesters" are not necessarily aiming only at Israel or Jews. "Protests" that involve personal intimidation and violence seem to be intent on destroying the way democracies conduct public discourse, and the way in which multi-pluralistic societies allow for different minorities and people with different political and religious views to live and work and study and play together. They want only one opinion to be heard.
This is reminiscent of the sort of thing that happened in Germany of the Weimar Republic and the early Nazi era.. The goal of the Nazis was to create chaos and to instill fear in opponents. The Sturmabteilung (SA, storm troopers), made it their business to disrupt cultural and political events and to beat up and kill opponents. Inevitably, the confrontations escalated to violence and then to use of firearms. A young storm trooper, Horst Wessel, wrote a song, which asserted that "Our comrades, who were shot by the Red Front and the reactionaries, march in spirit, in the midst of our ranks." Horst Wessel was killed in a street brawl, as luck or diabolic design would have it, and the Horst Wessel Lied became the infamous anthem that was a memorial to his martyrdom.

What is the correct or reasonable response to this sort of thing? What do you do when the other side doesn't play by the rules and instead starts playing by Weimar Republic street fighter rules?

Obviously, it is up to the authorities to maintain order in any way necessary, but as in the Weimar Republic, the authorities are paralyzed. Students who rioted at Concordia were not expelled or prosecuted the first time, so they were there to do it the next time. Hecklers who are only ejected politely from an auditorium after they finished their function will be back at the next event.

Likewise, in the United States, students and authorities seem to be accepting or even fostering violence and intimidation on campus. It is "fashionable" and "politically correct." The Muslim Students Union at Irvine has been carrying on a campaign of extremist anti-Israel rhetoric and intimidation for quite some time, but the authorities did nothing to stop them despite the pleas of pro-Israel students. And now, it has thus far proven impossible to get UC Irvine authorities to take disciplinary action against the students who conspired to disrupt Ambassador Oren's speech. The  thugs who beat up the two Jewish activists in Canada will probably never see justice, though it would be easy enough to find them. And of course, nobody will ever find the people who issued death threats against Mira Awad.

It is common sense that the right of free speech should not protect  vicious political ranting or rude outbursts at a violin concert, . It certainly does not include beating up students because someone doesn't like their opinions, or issuing death threats to artists. But nothing serious is done to deter these people.

Democratic values and those who are supposed to guard them have become like a deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming vehicle. Authorities seem powerless to stop the hoodlums.  Why? In some cases, it is mistaken support of "free speech." In other cases, there is tacit agreement with the general goals of the demonstrators, if not with the means used by them, just as there was in Nazi Germany. "Of course, the methods used by Herr Hitler are deplorable, but one must empathize with the protest of the volk over the betrayal of Germany by the Jews and the Bolsheviks. We have to understand that sometimes people may be a bit overzealous in pursuing a righteous cause." 

Once chaos starts, it begets more chaos. Hoodlums beget counter-hoodlums and violence spawns violence. Very often that is part of the goal of this sort of "protest" movement: They want to create martyrs like Horst Wessel. They have set up a win-win game. If they are unopposed, they certainly win. If the authorities act against them, they create martyrs and the protesters win anyhow. If the political opposition takes the law into their own hands, they help the rogue protesters change the rules of conduct. They legitimize the violence of the rogue protesters of the other side, and give them a moral green light to terrorize at will, as they did in the Weimar Republic.

Ami Isseroff


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