Jewish man arrested after criticizing Israel and U.S. at Kansas library's pro-Israel event

Library's director is "outraged" that prosecutors are pursuing charges against a man for asking critical questions

Published October 7, 2016 5:00PM (EDT)

U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on September 21, 2016  (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on September 21, 2016 (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)

The executive director of the Kansas City library system says he is "outraged" that prosecutors continue to pursue charges against a Jewish man who was arrested after asking pointed questions during a library discussion about the Middle East peace process, along with an employee who was also arrested after trying to intervene.

Although the arrests occurred in May following a speech by pro-Israel author and diplomat Dennis Ross, the library system only recently went public about its opposition to charges, the Kansas City Star reported.

R. Crosby Kemper III, executive director of the city's library system, said "we're going to be living in a different kind of country" if people can be arrested for asking questions at a library. "If this kind of behavior is unacceptable to the police, then I guess we're going to have to shut the library down."

Issues arose after Ross finished speaking and took a question from Jeremy Rothe-Kushel concerning whether Jewish Americans like Rothe-Kushel should be concerned about actions by the U.S. and Israel that amount to "state-sponsored terrorism."

"When are we going to stand up and be ethical Jews and Americans?" Rothe-Kushel asked.

When Rothe-Kushel tried to ask another question, a private security guard grasped his arm, followed by an off-duty police officer, both employed by the Jewish Community Foundation. Rothe-Kushel then shouted, "Get your hands off of me right now!"

Steve Woolfolk, director of public programming for the library, tried to intervene. Both men were arrested by off-duty officers.

"Every police officer who was on duty that evening was very communicative and respectful," Rothe-Kushel said. But he said he would have left if he had been asked to and given the chance to do so.

Kansas City police spokeswoman Capt. Stacey Graves said off-duty officers hired by the event sponsor acted properly in helping private security stop an audience member from asking follow-up questions.

Rothe-Kushel is charged in city court with trespassing and resisting arrest. Woolfolk is charged with interfering with an arrest. Woolfolk said he suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his knee when a police officer kneed him in the leg.

Kemper said the private security guards had no right to remove a patron for asking a question.

Dennis Ross' speech was the inaugural Truman and Israel Lecture, established by the Truman Library Institute and the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Kansas City.

Ross is an influential U.S. diplomat who has served as an advisor on Middle East issues for several presidential administrations. He has been described as the "U.S. point man" on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process for former presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.

A 2008 article in Time magazine, titled "Obama's Conservative Mideast Pick," noted Ross "headed up a hawkish pro-Israel think tank in Washington." It also cited a monograph by a former colleague, ambassador Dan Kurtzer, which accused Ross of being biased toward Israel.

Ross has worked as a foreign affairs analyst for Fox News.

By The Associated Press

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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