Israel Studies Professor Decries ‘Nasty Personal Shaming’ Campaign After Video of Verbal Attack on Chabad Rabbi Goes Viral
An Israeli academic teaching at a prestigious Israel studies institute in the US protested on Wednesday that she was being “subjected to the most nasty kind of personal shaming,” after she was captured on cellphone video this week berating and mocking a Chabad rabbi at Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv.
Pnina Peri — a visiting assistant professor at the University of Maryland’s Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies — told a Hebrew news outlet that she lost her temper after she was called “Hitler” during an altercation on Monday with Rabbi Meir Herzl and Gad Kaufman, an Israeli traveler who was putting on tefillin with Rabbi Herzl’s assistance.
Kaufman later posted video of the verbal clash on social media, accompanied by an explanation that read, “An amazing incident took place this morning at the airport, when I was politely asked by a Chabad man if I wanted to put on tefillin? I said yes, and then a woman with a crazy look jumped up and started cursing, harassing and disturbing!”
Kaufman continued: “It is really shameful that being a Jew in this country means being persecuted by the leftist Bohemian. If I were a Muslim or a Christian, would it be more legitimate for her…?”
Peri told Hebrew news site Ynet on Wednesday that “she was not against the values of religion and believes that every person should live in accordance with their faith.”
“I apologize for losing control, but I also look forward to an apology for the terrible things that hurt me and caused me to be angry,” she added.
Peri alleged that after she “politely” asked the two men to move to another part of the airport, so as not to disturb her, they responded by calling her “Hitler” and commented that it was “a pity that they did not kill me and my family during the Holocaust.”
Those words “made me react harshly,” she said.
Rabbi Herzl disputed Peri’s account, telling Ynet that “the respected professor” had presented an “incorrect version of the facts of the case.” He pointed out that he and Kaufman had been separated from Peri by a passageway, saying the video showed that she objected to their presence “in a nearby radius.”
“Neither before her outburst, nor during her horror show that lasted for many minutes, did I or the Jewish worshiper do anything except request the right to pray in silence,” Rabbi Herzl said.
In the amateur video posted on social media — which caught only part of the exchange — Peri was seen in a highly-agitated state, repeatedly ordering the men “to go over there” and laughing sarcastically as Kaufman wrapped the tefillin around his arm. As Herzl and Kaufman attempted to quietly recite a blessing, Peri’s laugh became louder and more aggressive.
Peri has continued to receive harsh criticism since landing back in the US, with dozens of internet trolls posting negative reviews of her teaching on the popular college student website ratemyprofessors.com since the video of her outburst went viral.
The last genuine reviews of Peri’s classroom performances were posted in 2011, with some Israel studies students praising her pleasant demeanor, but virtually all of them questioning her competence as a teacher.
“She’s a really nice lady, but she finds it hard to comprehend that not all things can be categorized as either black or white — this caused a lot of tension between her and some students,” one review posted in 2010 remarked.
Peri is married to the head of the Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies, Prof. Yoram Peri. A former adviser to late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Yoram Peri headed the left-wing New Israel Fund from 1999-2001. He was also an editor of the now-defunct Israeli Labor Party newspaper Davar.