Sharansky Faces Dessert Storm

By Max Gross

Published September 26, 2003, issue of September 26, 2003.
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Abe Greenhouse did not, at first, admit to throwing a pie at Israeli Minister for Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Natan Sharansky. “But I will admit to shouting, ‘Am Yisrael Pie!’” Greenhouse told the Forward.

Sharansky, an activist for Soviet Jewry’s right to immigrate to Israel who spent nine years languishing in Soviet prisons before he was allowed to immigrate himself, had been scheduled to give a lecture at Rutgers University’s Scott Hall in New Brunswick, N.J., last Thursday as part of a 13-college tour sponsored by the Israel on Campus Coalition. As he approached the podium, a cherry cream pie was hurled in his face. Witnesses identified Greenhouse, a senior at Rutgers, as the man who launched the dessert.

Greenhouse, a founding member of the Central Jersey Jews Against the Occupation, told the Forward that he is not a Sharansky supporter. “My opinion of Sharansky was that at one time he was, indeed, a legitimate hero,” Greenhouse said. “As an Israeli politician, he has sought to thwart the peace process. He was against adopting the road map, which was accepted by Bush, Sharon and Abbas. And I believe that he has, in fact, deliberately provoked the Palestinian population at a crucial time in the negotiation process, approving 800 new settlement units in the West Bank.”

Seconds after the pie was thrown, Greenhouse was tackled, thrown to the floor and arrested. When he called the Forward the next day, Greenhouse said that he had sustained a black eye, a broken nose and a fat lip. As he was escorted out of Scott Hall by Rutgers police — and later charged with disorderly conduct — a number of people in the audience shouted, “Arrest him,” “Kill him!” and “You deserve to die” at Greenhouse.

Greenhouse’s spokesman, Jonathan Jaffe, eventually acknowledged that Greenhouse was the man behind the pie. But, Jaffe clarified, “He didn’t throw a pie at Sharansky’s face; he placed a pie in Sharansky’s face.” This is a distinction, Jaffe said, that renders the incident harmless. “You’re making an assumption that when a pie goes into someone’s face it’s [violent]. He threw a pie as a spoof. It’s 1920s humor… a type of antic to demonstrate political activism.”

Others disagree. “I think if he thinks that assaulting Minister Sharansky is a harmless practical joke, he is more naive, ignorant and irresponsible than I believed,” said Andrew Getraer, executive director of Hillel, which invited Sharansky to campus. “Obviously, when you assault someone — whether it’s with a pie or anything else — you’re going to get a reaction. The 600 people sitting in the room didn’t view it as a harmless practical joke.”

Jaffe said that the reaction of Sharansky’s bodyguards was out of proportion considering Greenhouse’s actions. The bodyguards had brought Greenhouse “to the ground and they sucker-punched him in the face,” Jaffe said. “Any punishment that Abe may or may not deserve he already received from this bodyguard.”

Sharansky took a fairly good-natured approach to the incident. Getraer explained, “After nine years in the gulag, some student hitting him in the face with a pie isn’t really a big deal.” After being scurried out of the auditorium, Sharansky came back a few minutes later free from any trace of the airborne pastry. When he took the stage, he told the audience that New Jersey “cooks very good cakes” and said that he hoped “the cake was kosher.”

Was the pie kosher? “Of course!” Greenhouse told the Forward.

“Well,” said Getraer, “I haven’t seen the hechsher.”

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