On Tuesday, May 1, 2018, I attended a talk given by former Mossad Chief, Danny Yatom, at Washington Hebrew Congregation, a reform synagogue in Washington, DC. I was looking forward to hearing about Israel’s security the day after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s presentation revealing thousands of archives smuggled out of Iran demonstrating their nuclear program.
The talk was being given in the sanctuary of the synagogue. The speakers spoke from positions on the bima (stage), in front of the ark, and the audience was seated where congregants normally sat, with prayer books in receptacles attached to the chairs in front of us.
Susie Gelman, the Chair of the Israeli Policy Forum, the organization that brought Danny Yatom to speak, began the evening by sharing who they are and why they were formed. She thanked the sponsors of the event and introduced Danny Yatom.
Danny Yatom took his place at the podium and began to speak. Almost immediately upon speaking, a man from the audience stood up, unfurled a banner that read, “Free Palestine,” and started screaming at him, calling him “baby killer,” “war criminal,” “murderer,” the usual accusations launched at anyone who is Israeli (or Jewish) by the anti-Israel crowd. The audience was shocked with mouths ajar. Some of us yelled at him to, “get out.” There was not legitimate security in the room, so some of the men who were there as part of the leadership were able to convince him to leave, with only a slight amount of physical intimidation. Once he was removed from the room, Danny began to speak again.
Within moments, another disruptor got up and started shouting to the entire room about “apartheid Israel.” I recognized this disruptor. It was Medea Benjamin from Code Pink. I was immediately enraged. I yelled from across the room at her for her to leave. The rabbi came to the front of the room to attempt to “reason” with her, but he clearly didn’t know who he was dealing with. I got up from my seat, got directly in front of Medea, separately by 2 rows of seats, and screamed (yes, screamed) at her, “Get out, Medea Benjamin. We know who you are. This is what you do. Get out, Medea Benjamin.” I used her name to expose her as a professional provocateur. She seemed flustered and her usual confident proclamations of outrage were mousy and muzzled by my yelling her name on top of her to render her mute. She finally gave up and left the room.
I went back to my seat, feeling slightly embarrassed but extremely angry that she’d done this to all of us. We’d come to hear Danny Yatom speak and she interfered with that for everyone. I felt the adrenaline still coursing as I took my seat again. When Danny Yatom resumed speaking, I could barely concentrate on his words. I’ve been aware of Medea Benjamin for years – her support of Hamas, her demonization of Israel, and her disruptive antics. As upsetting as it was, there was a part of me that was extremely gratified in having the opportunity to respond to her hate face-to-face instead of passively and helplessly watching her spew it on YouTube.
As Mr. Yatom attempted to speak again, a third person interrupted. He was slightly more reasonable and was convinced by the organizers and rabbi to sit back down with the promise he’d be given the opportunity to speak during the Q&A segment. I later learned that this man was Ray McGovern, a former CIA officer turned activist who is regularly featured on InfoWars and Russia Today.
What I learned from Danny Yatom’s talk is that despite the fact that Iran lied, he still feels that participation in the Iran deal would provide a better avenue by which to expose their lies versus no deal at all. He further stated that while Israel features no current existential threats, there could be two existential threats in the future: 1. If Iran obtains a nuclear bomb, and 2. If a goal to create a one-state solution is standardized. Mr. Yatom reiterated the absolute necessity for a two-state solution based on bilateral negotiations as the only way Israel could ever achieve peace and security. And while the objective of a two-state solution seems dismal at the moment, with threats from Hamas and Hezbollah, it is still possible, and we must hold on to that goal.
During Q&A, I asked Mr. Yatom how Israel planned to meet the threat calling for a one-state solution via the BDS campaign. I explained that this element, the same element that stood up and disrupted his talk, was now appearing in local governments in Washington, DC and New York City (and via the UK Labour movement, which I failed to include, but is probably the most visible because of its magnitude). I relayed that this attempt to convince progressives in government and social movements worldwide that Israel must cease to exist is gaining traction and is a bigger threat to Israel than Hamas and Hezbollah combined. My question received applause from the audience. Mr. Yatom’s response was that Israel has faced more dangerous threats and he spoke of military situations that had been dire, yet overcome. I asked again, “but what is Israel doing to combat this non-military threat?” He did not have an answer other than to state that Israel would do what’s necessary to protect itself.
I came away from this presentation feeling that Israel does not seem to understand the enormous threat the BDS campaign poses. Israel has historically viewed its threats from a military standpoint and while equally important, disregard of the propaganda campaign puts Israel at a severe strategic disadvantage. It’s clear to me that Israel has not fully realized the substantial and very real danger to its safety and existence via the worldwide movement to render it illegitimate; a movement that is actively influencing governments and society-at-large to view Israel in this way. Israel must fully comprehend the risk this non-military tactic being employed to destroy it poses, and must do more to combat it. In my view, Israel needs an entire security apparatus to deal this tactic. They do not seem to be taking it seriously and they must.
From the Code Pink video of the event:
Reader post written by Debbie Hall
Debbie Hall is a writer, researcher, politics junkie, and nomad. She’s been studying the Middle East conflict for over 35 years and has numerous articles published on this topic. She gives all credit of her love for Israel to Mel Reisfeld. She’s currently traveling the US in search of great stories and warm weather.