By Yves Engler
On Monday (November 7), I registered for a public talk with anti-Palestinian activist Hillel Neuer. After receiving my electronic confirmation, I headed to the venue with the intention of challenging his anti-Palestinian racism.
A few minutes into Neuer’s speech I stood up from my seat with my telephone recording and declared “Mr. Neuer you are an anti-Palestinian bigot. You promote religious and ethnic supremacy in Israel.”
I had prepared a slightly longer speech that mentioned how his organization, UN Watch, “bullies those who promote equality and international justice”, but before I could finish my speech, I was grabbed by someone and was unable to say more than “don’t touch me” and “free Palestine”.
When I stood up and started speaking, Reuben Joshua Poupko, who was seated behind Neuer on the podium, moved swiftly across the hall toward me.
He began pushing me toward the exit with the assistance of security pushing me out of the room.
I told him and the security personnel not to touch me, but they ignored my demand.
In the reception area, Poupko slugged me hard in the stomach and told the security detail to take my phone.
As I was at the door of the building, Poupko said “take him outside and kick him in the head”.
Fortunately, the half-dozen security guards ignored Poupko.
During their assault, a security guard broke my glasses.
They then forced me into an area on the side of the top stairs to the building.
A minute into being held against my will, a thirty-something security guard decided I should be sitting and threw me down.
About three minutes later, as I was cornered by a group of muscular men, a fiftyish man came over and punched me in the head.
With no legal authority to do so, they demanded my ID and took my wallet.
They kept my phone during the 30-minute ordeal and erased the video I had started recording before challenging Neuer’s racism.
They erased and then attempted to permanently delete the video from my iPhone.
Fortunately, a video recovery software program retrieved the video. The 40-second clip shows me being man-handled by Poupko.
It wasn’t until minutes after the police arrived that security finally returned my phone.
Private security, of course, had no right to take my phone and delete evidence of an assault.
The police told me that if I pressed charges against those who assaulted me, they in turn would press charges against me.
Incredibly, the next morning (November 8), pro-Israel reporter Joel Goldenberg of the Suburban quoted Poupko saying I assaulted him – which is absolutely false – and that Poupko was going to press charges.
A few hours later, the Suburban story, which reported “one man in the audience grabbed Engler by the pants and then rabbi Poupko and security quickly hustled the activist out of the room”, disappeared from the website (I have screenshots of the article).
I invite Poupko to release any and all security footage he has of the incident.
My legal counsel immediately sent a letter to Poupko and the organizers of the event demanding that they keep all video evidence they may have of the incident.
Poupko is the rabbi at the Beth Israel Beth Aaron where Neuer’s public event took place.
While some may question challenging a political figure at a religious institution, I have done so previously at a church.
If Neuer spoke at a mosque I would do the same.
When Neuer received an honorary degree from McGill University in June 2018 a number of us attended to decry his anti-Palestinianism.
I have interrupted dozens of political figures at public events and have never faced anything approaching this level of violence.
Alongside broken glasses, I have a visible bump on my head as well as pain in my right shoulder and stomach. Much of my body aches.
While the violence meted out against me was outrageous it was not altogether surprising.
The speaker I interrupted promotes Israeli violence against Palestinians.
More generally, those who regularly celebrate or defend Israel’s humiliation and killing of Palestinians are likely to have their psyche shaped by violent nationalism.
Witness the recent election of extremist hate mongers as the third largest bloc in the Israeli parliament. Some of them will soon be cabinet ministers.
My body hurts, I’m shaken up and have to buy new glasses, but I don’t regret challenging an aggressive apartheid supporter.
Neuer’s anti-Palestinian bile should not go unchallenged.
(Yves Engler is a Canadian writer, journalist and human rights activist)