This was on CNN!
Jay Kernis - Senior Producer
Answering today's OFF-SET questions is Rae Abileah, an activist with Jewish Voice for Peace and CODEPINK.
According to its website, "Jewish Voice for Peace is a diverse and democratic community of activists" (who seek) "an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem; security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians; a just solution for Palestinian refugees based on principles established in international law."
According to its website, "CODEPINK is a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end U.S. funded wars and occupations, to challenge militarism globally, and to redirect our resources into health care, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities."
How did you get into the House of Representatives to disrupt the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu?
A friend gave me a ticket.
What did you shout out?
I held a banner that said “Occupying land is indefensible” and I shouted, “End the occupation; stop Israel war crimes; equal rights for Palestinians.”
Your father is Jewish and an Israeli. Why did you decide to protest?
Judaism teaches us to love our neighbors and work for justice.
I see Israel’s brutal occupation and oppression of the Palestinian people as contrary to Jewish values. Because I am a Jew and an American, I feel an added responsibility to speak out against these violations of international law that are being committed in my name and with my tax dollars. My great uncle was one of the first Israeli conscientious objectors in 1948 and I feel I am following in his tradition of non-violent resistance to oppression.
What happened after you protested? There are photographs of you surrounded by what look like security personnel?
As I stood up and spoke out, members of the audience tackled me, covered my mouth and violently threw me to the ground. Several of them were wearing badges from the powerful pro-Israeli government lobby group AIPAC. Amidst the assault, the police came and dragged me out of the gallery. They took me to an ambulance for urgent care, and later placed me under arrest at the hospital.
Also, there were five people who disrupted Netanyahu during his speech to AIPAC on Monday night and they were roughly treated as well. (Video is on the moveroveraipac.org website.)
After your protest, Netanyahu said to his Congressional audience, "You can't have these protests in Tehran," he said. "This is real democracy." How do you feel about his reaction?
It’s ironic that Netanyahu said this just after I had been assaulted by members of the audience, dragged out by the police and later arrested while I was in the hospital. This sounds eerily similar to the alleged democracy in Israel where Palestinians—and Israelis—are routinely assaulted, arrested and jailed for speaking out against the Israeli occupation.
In a real democracy, our representatives would be looking out for our best interests, not the interests of a foreign government, i.e.Israel. I want my government to take an even-handed approach that respects the rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. But in our so-called democracy, special interest lobby groups like AIPAC have enormous power because of their ability to direct campaign contributions.
So we have a very skewed policy that ignores the rights of the Palestinians, sanctions the Israeli violations of international law, sullies the U.S. reputation internationally and gives $3 billion a year of our tax dollars to the Israel military when we need this money here at home. Before we go preaching democracy abroad, we should make our own democracy more responsive to the public good, not the wishes of wealthy lobbyists.
Will you face charges because of the protest?
Yes, I have been charged with disorderly conduct and have a court date next month. I also plan to press charges against the person who assaulted me. Unfortunately, we have discovered that in our democratic system, the police are quick to go after those who disrupt the powerful, but rarely go after the powerful who attack the “little guy.”
This is not the first time you disrupted a speech by Netanyahu. What happened in November?
I was part of a group called Young, Jewish, Proud that spoke out during Netanyahu’s speech to the Jewish Federation in New Orleans last fall. We had gone to the Federation conference to say that Jews against occupation and war also deserve a place in the "big tent" of Jewish organizations and community, and that we will not be silent as Israel continues to perpetrate war crimes wrongfully in the name of our religion. YJP is the youth arm of Jewish Voice for Peace.
Many people will feel you are a crazy person to disrupt a world leader as he speaks before the U.S. Congress. Might there be other ways to make your point?
Yes, I try to make my point many ways—lobbying, writing articles, speaking to community groups. But I am reminded of the song by Malvina Reynolds that says, “It isn’t nice to block the doorways, it isn’t nice to go to jail, there are nicer ways to do it, but the nice ways always fail.”
I am as committed as ever to continuing to exert pressure on our US government using all the traditional channels, but I also recognize that it has been direct action and nonviolent resistance that has ultimately worked to create powerful change like the 8-hour work day, women's right to vote, liberation in India, and the overturning of apartheid in South Africa.
One of the most important ways that we can bring about a change in policy inIsraelis to exert economic pressure by participating in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. At CODEPINK we have a boycott of Ahava cosmetics, which are made in an illegal settlement, and our campaign has already seen many small victories.
What do you do when you're not protesting?
I am an organizer for the peace group CODEPINK. We educate and mobilize people to try to stop wars we shouldn’t be in—like Iraq, Afghanistan—and redirect our resources to rebuilding America.
Right now we have a campaign to get mayors all over the country to pass resolutions calling on Congress to redirect our war dollars into programs here are home that address dire community needs. Congress talks a lot about fiscal conservatism, but in fact it spends massive amounts of our money on war and “aid” to rich countries likeIsrael. So we mobilize citizens and local officials to bring our war dollars home.
And when I'm not organizing for justice, I enjoy spending time with my amazing family, surfing with my stepdad, engaging in Jewish ritual with my community in the Bay Area, practicing yoga, watching Glee reruns, and reading up on social movements around the world.