Israeli justice minister Ayelet Shaked faced repeated disruptions during a speech at the University of Vienna on Wednesday. Protesters read back words she posted on Facebook in 2014 calling for the genocide of the Palestinian people, including the slaughter of mothers who give birth to “little snakes.”
Shaked also has a history of racial incitement against refugees and migrants from African countries.
The video above, edited by activists, includes footage and audio from several cameras.
Meanwhile, the vice dean of the University of Vienna law school who introduced Shaked and defended her invitation admitted to The Electronic Intifada that he had not read the comments Shaked posted on Facebook advocating the destruction of the Palestinian people.
Activists with BDS Austria and Frauen in Schwarz (Women in Black) held protests inside the lecture hall and outside the building, organizers said. Those outside held signs quoting Shaked’s words. Spread around the lecture hall, activists stood up one after another and confronted Shaked with statements she had made and human rights violations committed by Israel.
“Sorry for interrupting you,” a man calls out a few minutes into Shaked’s talk. He challenges her over the boast of Naftali Bennett, the leader of her Jewish Home party, that he had killed “lots of Arabs.”
“You and your government [are] responsible for the killing of thousands,” the man states. While Shaked continues to speak, he can be heard raising Israel’s policies of homes demolitions and collective punishment against Palestinians.
A university official attempts to silence the protester, but he continues to speak about the contradiction of inviting Shaked to lecture on human rights.
He is removed from the room by two men as he continues to protest.
A few minutes later, another protester stands up and reads from Shaked’s notorious Facebook posting in which she republished and endorsed an article by Uri Elitzur justifying the wholesale slaughter of Palestinians.
The article declares that “the entire Palestinian people is the enemy,” and justifies its destruction, “including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure.”
“It was not my words,” Shaked calls back. The protester responds that though they are the words of Elitzur, Shaked is the one who posted them on Facebook. In that posting, Shaked had said that Elitzur’s article was previously unpublished.
The protester is also removed by security, but the disruptions continue and Shaked is unable to speak without constant reminders of Israel’s human rights violations.
“Israel is a criminal apartheid state,” Ronnie Barkan, an Israeli boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activist, calls out. He made his own video of the protest.
“You’re a liar,” Shaked responds, as a security officer removes Barkan, who continues to protest as he is removed.
Moments later, another calls out, “I do not apologize for interrupting you again, but you are the representative of a racist, apartheid regime. And it’s outrageous that the University of Vienna is giving you the place to say your racist and apartheid things.”
This protester is the BDS Austria videographer, who continues to record as he is removed. “No apartheid! Free Palestine!” he calls out.
The protest was similar to the videotaped disruption of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the University of Chicago in 2009, and others that have dogged Israeli officials and war crimes suspects ever since.
On Monday, Israel’s UN ambassador, Danny Danon, faced similar protests at New York’s Columbia University.
“Dialogue” about exterminating Palestinians?
Hundreds of academics, and a group representing Jews in Germany, had called on the University of Vienna to cancel Shaked’s lecture.
On Wednesday, the university issued a statement justifying the invitation:
It said that Shaked had been invited as part of a regular event, the “Distinguished Lecture Series.”
The university added: “Following their lectures, we invite our guest lecturers to enter into a dialogue with the expert audience and hold a controversial, open discussion within the framework of the academic discourse. These discussions do not represent an identification with our guests’ theses but rather serve as a forum for discussion.”
The university effectively normalizes the view disseminated by Shaked that the slaughter of mothers for the purpose of preventing births in a specific population group – an act that fits precisely within the international legal definition of genocide – is an appropriate topic for “academic discussion.”
Acceptance of such terms for “dialogue” normalizes the genocidal thesis Shaked endorsed.
“No I won’t”
When opening the event, Friedrich Rüffler, the vice dean of the law faculty, recalled Austria’s and the University of Vienna’s Nazi history as a justification for inviting Shaked.
“A university, and especially a faculty of law, is to be a place of free speech, where also especially controversial opinions can and should be expressed and discussed,” Rüffler said.
He added: “It will be a total wrong sign, it would be wrong in itself if we would not allow the minister of justice of the state of Israel to express her view here in Austria and at the faculty of law, given the history of Austria and the history of the University of Vienna in the ’30s and ’40s of the past century.”
Reached by telephone at his office in Vienna on Thursday, Rüffler told The Electronic Intifada that he had not read Shaked’s notorious 2014 Facebook posting.
When Rüffler was read some of the statements in that post, he replied, “I can’t give a comment on that, because I don’t know this statement.”
“I cannot prove that Ms. Shaked made these statements,” he added.
Asked if he would comment if sent proof, Rüffler replied, “No I won’t.”
“I don’t want to take any position in this discussion concerning the Middle East conflict,” Rüffler said.
“We agree that the university should be a space for free speech, but the truth is quite the opposite,” Marco Van Jura, a student at the school and co-founder of BDS Austria, told The Electronic Intifada.
“Every person in the university knows very well that the topic of Palestine, you should not talk about. I don’t say there is a direct censorship about it, but nobody touches that topic because it can block your career and bring you much trouble.”
Van Jura said that last year, he had posted announcements about BDS-related events on his department’s Facebook page only to have them deleted by administrators.
Standing up to hate
It appears that the lesson that University of Vienna educators take from the persecution and genocide of Jews in Europe – as well as the huge resurgence of extreme right-wing ideology in Austria – is that representatives of Israel, which purports to speak in the name of Jews everywhere, should be received as honored guests even after they have disseminated calls for genocide of Palestinians.
In a statement explaining its action, BDS Austria placed its protest in the context of resisting the growth of extremism. “No platform for the racist Israeli minister Ayelet Shaked,” the group declared. “Stop extreme right hate politics in the University of Vienna!”
Austria does not hold free speech above the prevention or denial of genocide, which is why its laws contain sweeping prohibitions on support for Nazi ideology.
BDS Austria’s Van Jura takes a different lesson from his country’s history than university administrators. “I and many others say that because of our history and the terrifying crimes of the Nazi regime, we must speak out,” Van Jura said.
“The meaning of ‘never again’ means never again against anybody, any time. We deeply condemn Ayelet Shaked, not just as a representative of the apartheid regime, but Shaked herself called for genocide.”
He noted the general taboo about criticism of Israel in Austria. Last year an event at the country’s parliament featuring the late Holocaust survivor and BDS activist Hedy Epstein was canceled after a smear campaign by anti-Palestinian advocates.
“And on the other hand, the university openly invites a minister who calls for genocide,” Van Jura said.
Free speech is a fundamental right, but that does not place an obligation on any institution – especially a law school – to provide a platform to genocidal racists, or to welcome and honor officials and agents of a state whose war crimes are currently being examined by the International Criminal Court.
As European Jews for a Just Peace Germany state in their open letter to the university, the invitation to Shaked was a betrayal of their relatives who suffered Nazi persecution in Europe.
As persons of Jewish origin in Germany, they write, “we know from the historical experiences of our ancestors the degradation and the pain to which humans are subjected if they are systematically excluded and deprived.”
Their call not to honor Shaked with a “distinguished” platform went unheeded.