TORONTO — A handful of protesters briefly disrupted the kickoff event for the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) Negev Dinner Sept.15 at the Beth David Synagogue in Toronto.
According to Josh Cooper, chief executive officer of JNF Canada, shortly after keynote speaker Shaul Mofaz – an MK, former IDF chief of staff and a former Israeli defence minister – began his address, a single individual stood up and shouted “I am Jewish and…” He was shouted down by members of the audience and escorted out of the synagogue’s sanctuary by police security.
As Mofaz resumed his speech, eight or nine other protesters interspersed in the sanctuary interrupted his address as well. Audience members joined police in escorting the protesters outside the facility, according to Cooper.
“We had a lot of security and guests who were happy to help remove them,” said Cooper.
Asked what was being protested, Cooper said, “the only thing I heard him say was, ‘I am Jewish…’ then others told him to sit down.”
One of the protesters who spoke up told The CJN she was assaulted by several members of the audience.
Judy, who asked that her last name not be used due to concerns for her safety, said she was grabbed by a few men and pushed toward the back door after she’d spoken up during Mofaz’s speech. She said she had stood up, identified herself as being Jewish and made a comment about not wanting the recent killing of 519 Gazan children to have been done in her name as a Jew.
“One man had his hands around my neck,” she said, “and they pushed me to the back and out the door.”
She said she’d continuously shouted “519 children killed” as the men pushed her out of the room.
Though emphasizing that she’d attended as an independent protester, Judy is a member of Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), a group that describes itself as “a national human rights organization whose mandate is to promote a just resolution to the dispute in Israel and Palestine through the application of international law and respect or the human rights of all parties.”
IJV has spoken out vociferously against the JNF, which it calls on its website “the principle Zionist tool for controlling land in Palestine,” and has protested the organization on a number of occasions in Canadian cities.
Judy was one of several protesters who had purchased tickets to the event in order to voice their opposition to both the JNF and Mofaz.
Fellow IJV member Ben Saifer said he bought a ticket independently and attended the event, because after the recent war, he felt it was “shameful” for the JNF to invite a former IDF general to speak.
He said he stood up during Mofaz's speech and chanted things such as, "We are Jews, shame on you, end the occupation now," before being pushed out of the room by about four men. He said another protester took a video of the incident, which may be released online shortly.
Cooper said the protesters were there to create a disturbance. “They didn’t come in with blue boxes full to help us build bomb shelters… They didn’t come to say thank you,” he said
He called their protest “completely selfish” and designed to “harm an event that helped people, a hospital in Jerusalem.”
Judy emphasized the protesters were non-violent.
“I was really quite shocked that, after what happened this summer in Gaza, that [the JNF] would ask a general to speak and would honour him. ”
Judy said she and two other protesters were inside the event, while eight to 10 others – some also affiliated with IJV – stood outside to show support for their fellow demonstrators.
She said that before she stood up, a man apparently, stood up and interrupted the talk to shout “Free Palestine.”
After being pushed from the room, Judy says she and the other protesters were stopped by a Toronto police officer and detained for about 20 minutes.
One unnamed protester was reportedly charged with trespassing.
“We said we had paid to be there and [the police officer] said we weren’t allowed to speak [at the event]. We asked what they could possibly charge us with and why they weren’t paying attention to the people who had physically assaulted me, and they didn’t seem the least bit interested [that we were assaulted,]” she claims.
Judy said she has not pressed charges and doesn’t know the identities of the people who she claims used force against her, though it’s something she might consider.
About 425 people attended the event, which is the kickoff to this year’s Negev Dinner on Nov. 23 at the Metro Convention Centre. The dinner will honour philanthropist Max Glassman and will raise funds in partnership with the Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem for a new building to treat post traumatic stress disorders and other mental health issues, Cooper said.