Heckles or applause, punch or shove?

What Really Happened to Bennett at the Israel Conference for Peace

The hero's whining after he was heckled and booed may have been pathetic, but the leftist peace camp certainly has a lesson to learn from the right-wing leader's on-stage performance.

Uri Misgav
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Economy Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at Haaretz's Israel Conference on Peace, July 8, 2014.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Uri Misgav

I understand that in addition to Operation Protective Edge and its consequences, Israeli citizens are concerned about Tuesday’s attack on Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett in particular and on Israeli democracy as a whole. So let me explain how things work for our Naftali. It might put your mind at rest and perhaps teach you a bit about this professional misleader.

The first rocket launched at Tel Aviv on Tuesday evening intercepted Haaretz's Israel Conference on Peace a few moments before I was meant to take the stage. After a day jam-packed with speeches and debates, I was supposed to use five minutes to present my viewpoint or opinion.

What I had planned to say changed during the course of the speeches. I had intended to tell the crowd to be like Bennett, as I was supposed to speak shortly after him.

Bennett came to the event with his head held high. I wanted to propose to my leftist and peace-loving friends that they copy that model, and stop being nice, stop apologizing for who and what you are and what you believe in. What is happening within the State of Israel today is the start of a war. It’s about time the other side takes its positions.

Bennett’s appearance was truly impressive. He acts like a rock star. It’s no wonder he has such an enthusiastic following among his young, fired up audience of Jewish brothers and sisters. He looks as though he is in a state of euphoria. It’s curious that after regaling the audience with tales of his high-tech escapades, he chose to accuse them of being rapists (“raping reality,” was the way he put it.) That, ladies and gentlemen, is how a man intoxicated with power acts. Not a victim.

Despite his pathetic whining after the event, Bennett felt totally comfortable from the first moment. I saw him before he took the stage, high on adrenaline, surrounded by aides and security details.

I was sorry to see Labor MK Shelly Yacimovich smiling and mingling with him. I don’t understand why you need to be nice and smile at a leader of the extreme right who does not stop inciting and fanning the flames.

That doesn’t mean that we should force him to keep his mouth shut. I was glad they invited Bennett to speak. I was sorry to hear some of the crowd heckling him as he took the stage. Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken and conference organizer Akiva Eldar asked the crowd numerous times to keep quiet (and their requests were met with applause, by the way). I don’t know why the ushers and security personnel weren’t instructed to remove the rowdy bunch from the room. That’s how violent people must be dealt with. That’s how we must deal with a small, outrageously loud minority that forces its will on the sane general public.

Believe me, Bennett and friends know very well what it means to be a small, outrageously loud minority that forces its will on the sane general public.

The whole ordeal was embarrassing. From a personal perspective (lack of respect for a guest who has a different opinion), from a rational perspective as well – what’s the sense in coming to a peace conference to spend all day hearing from people with the same opinion as you? And from a tactical perspective – Bennett looks like a martyr in the eyes of his own crowd, after the left tried to shut him up.

I was surprised at just how low he was willing to stoop. He reported being physically assaulted, punched in the back. Not so. True, there was an incident as he left the conference floor. From what I understood, he was lightly pushed in the back or shoulder – some say it was by an elderly man. Not a single eyewitness can corroborate that he was punched in the back. None of his security people thought to get involved.

Don’t be mistaken: it’s shameful if someone intentionally made physical contact with him. But still, it’s a bit odd that he, a special forces hero who boasted earlier this year about having killed numerous terrorists, would whimper like a baby after some leftist shoved him in the shoulder.

So in the end, I’m glad the sirens prevented me from delivering my speech. Don’t be like Bennett. Just know who you’re dealing with. Learn from him what you can, dammit, and face him already with your heads held high. We mustn’t let him win.