TEL AVIV (JTA) — A panel at a major American Jewish conference here descended into pandemonium as protesters in the audience shouted down a leading far-right politician.
Panelists also sniped at each other over the government’s controversial attempt to overhaul Israel’s judiciary and its threat to tighten immigration rules.
Security personnel forcibly ejected multiple protesters from the event, which took an unplanned five-minute break to calm the tensions in the room. It was the first reprimand of protesters at a conference whose organizers had made clear they expected them and supported any that did not interfere with the proceedings.
“We wanted very much to include anyone who wanted to be here, to learn and to be part of the conversation. It’s unfortunate it was disrupted so we couldn’t engage in the kind of learning we had hoped for,” Jewish Federations of North America board chair Julie Platt told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the interrupted panel. “It was more than we expected.”
The drama at the event surrounded Simcha Rothman, an Orthodox lawmaker who is one of the architects of, and a vocal advocate for, the government’s proposal to sap power from the Supreme Court. Protests against him on Monday began before his speaking engagement and followed him throughout his remarks.
Rothman is the most prominent advocate for the judicial overhaul to speak at the General Assembly, a conference taking place in Tel Aviv and organized by the Jewish Federations of North America. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak at the conference’s opening on Sunday night but backed out hours earlier in the face of protests.
Monday morning’s events came about 12 hours after hundreds of protesters demonstrated outside the General Assembly’s opening event. Inside the conference kickoff on Sunday night, addressing the protesters, Platt said, “We see you, we hear you and we are inspired by your love of Israel.”
Rothman opted to come and met opposition in the conference’s halls almost immediately. While sitting with a reporter in the gathering’s breakfast area, a small gaggle of protesters arrived at his table and started chanting “shame” in Hebrew. One protester offered Rothman a bracelet bearing the word “democracy,” which has become the anti-government protests’ one-word slogan, and another yelled, “Rothman, go to hell.”
The protests intensified at the morning panel, which centered on proposals to change Israel’s Law of Return affording automatic citizenship to Jews, their children and grandchildren. Every time Rothman spoke, a group of protesters standing in a kind of informal ring around the room shouted him down with chants of “shame” and “liar,” in both Hebrew and English. Protesters on one side of the room held Israeli flags — another mainstay of the street protests — as well as an LGBTQ rainbow pride flag.
Multiple protesters were dragged out of the event by security — at least one of whom came back in and continued protesting. One yelled, “Rothman is destroying Israel, destroying our future! My kids! My kids!”
Rothman repeatedly had to pause his remarks and shot back at the protesters throughout his comments.
“What we see here is exactly the problem we need to address, a person that shouts ‘democracy’ while trying to shut up other people,” Rothman said after a protester shouted, “You’re an enemy of the Jewish people!” Rothman later said, “Some people are looking for consensus only when they’re in the opposition.”
The shouting was not limited to protesters in the audience. Rothman’s co-panelists were Yohanan Plesner, the president of the Israel Democracy Institute think tank, and Alex Rif, founder of the One Million Lobby, which advocates for Russian-speaking Israelis. Plesner objected in strong terms both to Rothman’s views on the Law of Return and to the judicial overhaul.
“The government came in with an agenda to fundamentally alter the fragile arrangements that existed for 75 years,” he said. “Somehow this balance was kept because the Supreme Court played a balancing role, and the Knesset and government respected that role.”
Rothman at one point suggested that Plesner join the protests and criticized him personally.
“The person that is the head of the Israeli Democratic Institution [sic] basically praises the idea that an undemocratic organization in Israel, powered in Israel, unelected… will make a decision that as we see are very tense,” Rothman said, referring to the Supreme Court. “Not the democratic body politic of the State of Israel, God forbid.”
Plesner responded by saying, “You’re misrepresenting what I said. Every democracy has an independent court that protects rights.”
Rothman responded, “They lied to you, they lied to the public in the U.S., they lied to the public in Israel.”
The panel’s stated topic, the Law of Return, also led to sharp disagreement. Rothman is in favor of making the law more restrictive by canceling the provision allowing the grandchild of a Jew to gain citizenship. The clause has allowed for a significant proportion of Israel’s Russian speakers to immigrate.
Rothman said the idea of canceling the clause “is not new, it’s not [originally] from this government, it’s to deal with the problem that arose … in the 90s,” when large numbers of Jews immigrated from the former Soviet Union. Because he said the change would mostly affect immigrants from eastern Europe, he suggested it shouldn’t be as concerning to American Jews and added, “Sadly, some people are trying to make this issue a split between American Jewry and Israeli Jewry in an unjustified way. We need to have this conversation and find a solution.”
Rif responded by accusing Rothman of telling Russian-speaking Israelis, ”You’re here by mistake.” She called on Israel to ease immigration for Jews from Russia and Belarus. In an explicit allusion to last century’s American Jewish activism on behalf of Soviet Jewry, which employed the slogan “Let my people go,” she brandished a sign onstage reading “Let my people in.”
Both Rif and Plesner drew cheers from the audience when they spoke.
“When you change the law of Return, you close the door for them forever for the Jewish people,” she said of Russian speakers already living in Israel. “You’re telling them, ‘We don’t want you here.’ Now, they’re living here for 30 years feeling second-class.”
Following particularly intense protests and onstage argument, Jewish Federations personnel called for a five-minute break. Protests against Rothman continued following the break, though the panel’s discussion continued. After the break, Plesner offered an olive branch of sorts to Rothman.
“I want to say, to Simcha Rothman’s credit, that he is a staunch ideologue. I disagree, almost, with everything he says, but he’s a staunch ideologue,” Plesner said. “Before the elections he said exactly what he’s going to promote. We sat together, and he said so.”
Focus group Oct. 11 at Simkin Centre for people concerned about personal care homes
As Manitobans have gone to the polls and with a new legislative assembly about to begin a new four-year term, the challenges of long-term and continuing care homes need to be communicated.
MARCHE, the Manitoba Association of Residential and Community Care Homes for the Elderly will be holding a focus group on Wednesday, October 11 that is intended to provide the community at large a forum to express thoughts and provide ideas and recommendations for the future.
Please join us on Wednesday, October 11th at the Saul & Claribel Simkin Centre. We look forward to hearing from you.
See poster below for more information and how to register to attend.
Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.
Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary
By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”
Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)