Satmar Protest at Rabin’s YU Visit (Vol. 58, Issue 11)
Continuing their shadowing of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on his North American visit, Satmar Chasidim descended on YU on March 18. Shouting slogans, and carrying signs reading “Israeli Government Desecrates Holy Gravesites,” the chasidim protested the Israeli High Court of Justice’s decision to lift previous injunctions barring construction at the Mamilla Site, enabling archaeologists to remove the Jewish corpses buried there.
Explaining the rationale for protesting Rabin’s speeches when the decision was made by the Israeli High Court, protest spokesman Jacob Horowitz responded that “Anybody who has the power to Stop this is responsible. Rabin certainly has such power.” The chasidim shouted, “Rabin, shame on you for desecrating graves” and "Yeshiva University, shame on you for inviting Yitzhak Rabin.” Towards the end of the protest, the chasidim shouted “Yitzhak Rabin...Nazi!”
Student reaction was mixed. Many expressed support for the chasidim’s right to protest, while not necessarily agreeing with the protestors. Others felt that it is Israelis’ responsibility to protest, not American citizens. Several students shouted “Go back to Boro Park!”
Uri Cohen commented, ‘I’m glad they protested everywhere Rabin went. If it would only have been YU, that would have hurt.” Some students weren’t too concerned at being slighted. “All they care about is graves,” said Semicha student Simcha Axelrod.
While they were protesting, the Chasidim took the opportunity to speak out against the Labor Party’s brand of Zionism. Explaining their position, Horowitz stated, “It’s a disgrace that these people who founded the State of Israel weren’t Shomer Mitzvos yet have the audacity to say they represent the Jewish people.”
Horowitz repeated long standing criticisms of policies that encouraged immigrant Yemenite and Iranian children to abandon Jewish tradition in favor of socialist ideals; often, this was accomplished by separating the children from their parents, and occasionally through deceptive means. While most secular Zionists publicly condemn these activities, they sometimes partially excuse these actions by considering the political turbulence of that era. Satmar is less understanding, seeing “spiritual destruction as devastating to the Jews as physical destruction.”
According to Satmar, a Jewish state before the Messiah is a grave transgression. Satmar believes that the Jewish state itself is anti-Torah, and that there can be no reconciliation between the present state and traditional values. According to Horowitz, all previous Satmar protests were held not only to publicize specific issues, but also to generally dampen enthusiasm for Zionism.
Burns security guards prevented any discussion on a large scale between students exiting from Rabin’s address and the Chasidim. When one student asked a Burns Security guard why he was not allowed to approach the demonstrators, the guard responded, “Your job isn’t to ask questions.”