Netanyahu Calls Off Speech

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu canceled his speaking engagement at a Berkeley theater last night after a crowd of angry anti-Israel protesters stormed the theater's gates.

Netanyahu was scheduled to address audiences at the Berkeley Community Theatre as part of a speaker series, but the Berkeley Police Department advised him to cancel the event because of the hundreds of protesters.

The crowd, while non-violent, pushed forward as soon as ticket-holders began to line up outside of a square-shaped barricade designed to keep those without tickets at bay.

"If you have tickets, go to hell," screamed some of the protesters as community members lined up to enter the theater.

Hostilities climaxed when event officials began escorting ticket-holders - one at a time - through the barricaded area and into the theater.

Fifteen to 20 people were already inside the theater when Barbara Lubin, director of the Middle East Children's Alliance, and two other women single-handedly broke the barricade. Police shoved the three women back into the crowd.

Lubin said one of the primary goals of the anti-Israeli protesters was to stop Netanyahu from speaking.

"We are upset and angry that people get dressed up to hear fascists speak," Lubin said. "I think it is in really poor taste given the fact that children are dying and homes are being bombed."

Once Lubin broke the barrier, the crowd stormed the enclosed area, as event officials and police retreated behind the fence of the theater.

Ticket-holders were equally disgruntled with the emotional protesters.

"We have no agenda, we just want to hear what the guy has to say," said one ticket-holder. "I am disgusted with Berkeley."

At the time Netanyahu was originally scheduled to speak, he and the president of the lecture series canceled the event under the advisement of the police.

Yesterday the Israeli parliament voted to hold elections for a new prime minister, and Netanyahu, the leader of the right-wing Likud Party, is considered a candidate. During his tenure as prime minister, Netanyahu favored the controversial construction of Jewish settlements in Palestinian areas.

City councilmember Dona Spring said she was upset that the event was even held.

"I am upset we're spending public money to provide security for this event," she said.

Berkeley police Lt. Russell Lopes, however, made it clear that the city has no voice in who the speaker series invites to Berkeley. He said he was only notified of Netanyahu's planned appearance two days prior to the event from a sergeant who was a speaker series ticket-holder. The sergeant was notified that Netanyahu would be speaking, instead of the scheduled Henry Kissinger, through a flier he received in the mail.

Lopes cited insufficient communication between the series company and the U.S. Department of State for the inadequate police coverage. Despite the lack of notification, the bomb squad, swat team and 50 to 60 officers in riot gear were deployed.


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