An Israeli woman who was filmed apparently mocking a Chabad rabbi at Ben Gurion Airport as he helped another man don tefillin said the pair had insulted her off-camera and said, “It’s too bad that Hitler didn’t kill you and your entire family.”
Pnina Peri, whose actions were captured on a cellphone video posted on Facebook, is seen in a clip berating the men, laughing and screeching on Monday morning as they practiced the religious rite. She yelled at them in Hebrew to “move because you are bothering me” and asked rhetorically, “Why are you doing this here? There are people here.”
The video, which has had more than 300,000 views since Monday, was posted by Gad Kaufman, the businessman who put on the tefillin with the help of the Chabad rabbi manning a booth at the airport.
In a statement, Peri said the clip distorted the incident.
“I am shocked and hurt by the distorted and one-sided way in which I was presented and made a victim of the most despicable kind of shaming,” she said. She then described her version of events, in which she claimed to have been verbally abused by the two men before the filming began.
“I was sitting in Ben Gurion Airport, waiting for a flight, when suddenly, two men arrived and started laying tefillin right on top of me. I asked them as politely as possible that with all the respect I have for the laying of tefillin and other Jewish rituals, if they could allow me my personal space,” Peri said.
“In response, I was attacked in the most horrible way imaginable. They shouted at me to move, called me misogynist names and cursed me out, saying that, ‘It’s too bad that Hitler didn’t kill you and your entire family.’ As the daughter of a family that lost so many members in the Holocaust, and who grew up for most of her life in the shadow of the Holocaust, that remark led to my outburst.”
She accused the person who shared the video of deliberately trying to shame her.
“Whoever distributed that partial and very distorted video decided to shame me by ignoring the first part of how the incident unfolded,” she said.
“It is important for me to say that I am not against religious values and believe that each person should live by his or her faith,” Peri added. “However, this attempt to tell me that it is too bad that my family and I were not killed in the Holocaust caused me to respond so sharply, particularly since it was made by a member of my own people in Israel. Of course, I apologize for the way that I lost control, but I also expect an apology for the terrible things I was subjected to and which caused my outburst.”
Peri is the head of the Joseph and Alma Gildenhorn Institute for Israel Studies at the University of Maryland. Peri, who formerly taught at Israel’s Sapir Academic College, is an expert in multicultural theories. Her husband, Yoram Peri, served as president of the New Israel Fund, which supports left-wing causes, from 1999 to 2001.
Kaufman, who was leaving Israel for a business trip, wrote a post in Hebrew with the video.
“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,” he wrote. “I said yes, and then a woman with a crazy look jumped up and started cursing, harassing and disturbing! It is really shameful that being a Jew in this country means being persecuted by leftist Bohemians. If I were a Muslim or a Christian, would it be more legitimate for her…?”
Many of the responses to the video criticized the woman for her actions. Several also praised the Chabad rabbi, identified by Channel 20, a religious news station, as Rabbi Meir Herzl, the director of the Chabad House in the Jerusalem suburb of Pisgat Zeev, for his restraint in not responding to her.