The clogs that were heard round the world

February 26, 2009

In News The Israel-Palestine Conflict


Ron Edelheit was about to begin a speech on the Gaza war to a gathering of Dutch Jews in Amsterdam on Sunday when he counted four shoes hurtling toward him.

“Two of them hit me,” he said, both on the legs. He spoke to The Jerusalem Post by phone on Monday from The Hague, where he had just finished pressing charges against the three “youngsters” who assaulted him.

Edelheit, who holds both Israeli and Dutch citizenship, travels to Holland about once a year to visit his mother, a resident of The Hague.

As a reservist in the IDF Spokesman’s Unit, he was asked by the Women’s International Zionist Organization to speak at a gathering of its members and affiliates in Amsterdam. It was at that event that he was attacked.

From the beginning, Edelheit’s speaking engagement – which was intended to be a simple affair and in which he had participated in the past – was troubled by pro-Palestinian activists in Holland. Their threatening letters and phone calls succeeded in having the event canceled at its first location.

When it was rescheduled for the Apollo hotel in Amsterdam, not even a significant police presence outside the venue could protect Edelheit. The three youths who assaulted him, all of them ethnically Dutch in appearance, simply paid the entry fee and walked into the engagement.

“The police were at the 50-man demonstration outside,” said Edelheit, referring to a rally allegedly organized by the Dutch Palestine Committee. “But these three young people, who you could tell did not belong [at the event], came right in.”

Edelheit had not even begun his presentation when the protesters stood up.

“Each of them shouted something different, which is why nobody knows what they said. And then four shoes came flying at me,” he said.

Edelheit is not the only Israeli to have been “shoed” this month. On February 4, Israeli ambassador to Sweden Benny Dagan was hit by a shoe while defending the IDF’s Operation Cast Lead at Stockholm University.

Shoe-throwing is a sign of disrespect in the Islamic world, popularized by an Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at former US president George Bush during a press briefing last December.

Although Edelheit insisted he was not frightened, he could tell that attendees at the event had been badly shaken up by the assault – a feeling that has spread to the wider Jewish community in Holland.

“I look at the Jewish community here, and I see that they went through a trauma,” he said. “They are in shock.”

Edelheit believed the youths were still in custody at a Dutch police station in The Hague, where he filed charges. However, the local station declined to comment on the occurrence as a matter of internal policy, and Dutch police national headquarters could not be reached for comment.

Edelheit’s next stop is Belgium, where he will visit more family and speak at another private engagement in support of the IDF. He does not feel that his personal security is still at risk.

“I am driving by myself to Belgium,” he said. “I had no security in Amsterdam – only what the Jewish community requested for the event at the hotel. I won’t have any in Belgium, either.”

He was certain that part of his presentation there would address the disruption in Amsterdam.

“These [protesters] crossed a line,” he said. “There is freedom of speech with very bad taste,” like protesters outside chanting angry slogans. “But then if you throw a shoe – today it’s a shoe, tomorrow a knife.”

Elan Lubliner contributed to this report.