My Evening at the New School
by Jacob Plitman
MORE THAN AN HOUR into last night’s event at the New School, a protester stood up from the audience and began to shout at Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. “How can you say that!” the protester shouted as security moved closer. Sarsour, who had just finished speaking about her work raising money for a destitute Jewish cemetery in Colorado, looked genuinely confused. “Hypocrisy!” he shouted over his shoulder as he was escorted out.
A few minutes later, a second panel disruptor chose an equally odd moment to yell at Jewish Voice for Peace member (and Jewish Currents contributor) Lina Morales as she answered a question regarding how to convince Jews to take antisemitism seriously. “I challenge you!” the protestor shouted and gestured, led away as the audience drowned out what he had been saying with applause.
When disrupting a public event or panel, it’s important to pick the right moment to begin shouting. Naturally, what the panelist or panelists are saying when you leap up will frame your action. Never was this more clear than at last night’s controversial panel on antisemitism at the New School, hosted by Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), Jacobin magazine and Linda Sarsour.
Had I attended the panel intending to disrupt it, I might have found it equally hard to pick a good moment. For all the ink spilled regarding the event (and especially Sarsour’s role) over the past few weeks, these idiosyncratic disruptions made clear the lack of an obvious point of outrage. Instead, the panel provided an interesting and inspiring look at a new approach to countering antisemitism.
While unabashedly leftist, the panel’s material was generally straightforward and in the interest of Jews. To begin, JFREJ’s Leo Ferguson elaborated on his organization’s new work on antisemitism, exploring the roles antisemitism has played through history and examining new ways to resist Jewish oppression while struggling in solidarity with other minority groups. Jews cannot count on Democratic politicians, Ferguson said, who “were passing illiberal laws criminalizing (boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel) while the right got an actual white supremacist elected to our highest office.”
Next, Morales addressed the role of “Ashkenazi elites” in Israel in serving the interests of antisemites in the United States and elsewhere, and JVP Executive Director Rebecca Vilkomerson cautioned that simultaneously pro-Israel and antisemitic individuals like Breitbart editor Stephen Bannon show that, “loving Israel does not mean loving Jews.” Anyone facing center or rightwards on Israel might balk at these ideas, but an audience member (disruptive or otherwise) searching for hypocrisy regarding antisemitism would draw a blank.
Sarsour spoke last, first condemning antisemitism and vowing her continued fight against it. “I don’t need an invitation to the movement to counter antisemitism,” she said, “I’ll be there because it’s the right thing to do for all of us.” Next she countered critics who questioned her stance in support of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. “I’m unapologetically Palestinian… what position would you expect me to have?” On antisemitism, she spoke clearly and passionately. Observers critical of Sarsour’s Israel politics would not be satisfied, but Sarsour insisted that she wasn’t the focus of the panel. “I’m not as important as I’m made out to be,” she said, “I don’t wait at the door of the movement (protecting minorities) giving litmus tests. (My detractors) would know that if they ever showed up.”
As the event ended and I readied to leave, a nondescript woman in a blue hat marched to the center of the room, swiveling as she held her phone, obviously video recording. “Am yisrael chai!” (the nation of Israel lives!) she shouted. The few who took noticed laughed slightly and returned to their conversations as the woman moved towards the door. Scrolling Twitter in the train a few minutes later, I saw the video posted; the videographer was islamophobic twitter troll Laura Loomer. “(Linda Sarsour) getting #Loomered,” she captioned the video, which captured a few brief words shouted at Sarsour, her swiveling, her exit, and mine.
Jacob Plitman is an Associate Editor of Jewish Currents.