Kadima MK Avi Dichter was interrupted by protesters as he stood up to speak to an audience of hundreds of students at Brandeis University near Boston on Wednesday. Several students got up out of their seats and called Dichter a war criminal, both in English and Hebrew. The incident was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube.
Students from a group called Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine hurled insults at Dichter and accused him of torture and crimes against humanity. Brandeis University is considered to be a bastion of liberal politics in the United States and has a large Jewish student population.
Dichter and five other MKs from Kadima, Labor and Likud are in the United States for an intense study of American Jewish life as part of the inaugural Ruderman Fellows Program. The six-day program aims to give the legislators a detailed understanding of the structure and history of the American Jewish community.
Dichter may have learned more than he bargained for when he said only days ago that he hopes the group of MKs returns to Israel "as ambassadors ... about what it means to be a Jew overseas in general and in the United States in particular."
Following the event Dichter told Haaretz that "everything was peaceful for about an hour, until we got to the question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and then I stood up to take the podium and answer the question – and then they stood up and started to shout."
"I was pleased, however, that the audience was outstanding and I continued to answer and they responded with warmth and applause and made me feel truly at home," he said, adding that he believes that the world is coming to understand that was Israel is doing is to combat terror.
Israeli officials travelling abroad continue to be accosted by young protesters confronting them for Israel's defense policy. Groups of Arab and Muslim students have disrupted speeches by Israeli officials on university campuses in the past, but recently some left-wing Jewish student groups have also joined the attacks.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at the Jewish Federations General Assembly in New Orleans in November 2010 was marked by repeated heckling from Jewish students in the audience, protesting loyalty oath legislation and Israel's occupation of the West Bank, before being unceremoniously escorted away.
Dichter, 58, served as Director of the Shin Bet Security Service during the Second Intifada. After entering politics, he served as Public Security Minister from 2006 to 2009.
Dichter was sued in a U.S. court in 2002 for the wrongful death of 15 Palestinians that were killed in an Israeli Air Force strike on a Hamas military leader in Gaza, when a one-tonne bomb was dropped on an apartment building during his tenure with the General Shin Bet. The federal judge threw out the charges of war crimes.
Dichter cancelled a planned trip to the U.K. to deliver an address on the diplomatic process in 2007 over concerns that he would be arrested due to his involvement in the decision to assassinate the Hamas leader in 2002. Because Dichter was not an official guest of the British government, he was not immune to arrest there.
British law states that a private individual can file a complaint against another person for offenses such as war crimes. The Conservative – Liberal Democrat coalition government has proposed legal changes which would restrict citizens' ability to seek the arrest of foreign politicians, including Israeli officials.
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