Akunis cancels attendance at California event amid protest against judicial overhaul

Audience left waiting for two hours before Los Angeles consul says science and technology minister withdrew because ‘he didn’t want to bring a bad feeling or bad vibes’

Protesters against the judicial overhaul demonstrate outside a venue in Los Angeles, leading to Israeli Science Minister Ofir Akunis canceling his appearance, May 30, 2023 (UnXeptable protest group)
Protesters against the judicial overhaul demonstrate outside a venue in Los Angeles, leading to Israeli Science Minister Ofir Akunis canceling his appearance, May 30, 2023 (UnXeptable protest group)

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis pulled out of a Los Angeles event on Tuesday amid a protest at the venue against the government’s contentious planned judicial overhaul.

The audience at the Los Angeles Consulate event on the topic of innovation and technology was left waiting for two hours before being informed that the minister would not be attending.

“In the end he decided he’s not coming. He said that he felt his presence here might cause more provocations from the people outside and the protesters, and he said he didn’t want to bring a bad feeling or bad vibes to anything associated with him and the State of Israel, and therefore he decided not to come,” Consul General Hillel Neuman told the gathered attendees, saying that he was speaking on behalf of Akunis.

In a statement to Channel 13 news, Akunis said that his “successful visit” to the United States would continue, and that he had canceled so that Israel’s internal affairs were not brought to international venues.

“If there is a place for a nonviolent debate in Israel’s internal affairs – it is only in Israel. Since we knew that provocations by demonstrators from the left were expected, we chose not to hold them in the international arena,” Akunis said.

Akunis is one of a number of ministers who complained in Sunday’s cabinet meeting about protests outside their homes, despite the fact that he himself attended at least one demonstration outside the Ra’anana residence of former prime minister Naftali Bennett during the term of the previous government.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on January 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Protest organizers from the UnXeptable movement — a group of Israel expats opposed to the judicial overhaul — welcomed Akunis’s decision to stay away from the consulate event.

“As we promised, whoever tries to destroy Israeli democracy will not enjoy a quiet visit to the United States. We will be everywhere that they are and we will prevent them from spreading lies,” the group said in a statement.

Akunis is one of at least 18 ministers and lawmakers reportedly slated to participate in next week’s annual Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, which will also be met with protests.

The full list is reportedly expected to include Akunis, Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel and Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan — all of Likud — as well as Immigration and Absorption Minister Ofir Sofer of Religious Zionism, Heritage Minister Amichai Eliyahu of Otzma Yehudit, Jerusalem Minister Meir Porush of United Torah Judaism, and Labor Minister Yoav Ben-Tzur of Shas.

Also slated to attend the parade are Religious Zionism party MKs Simcha Rothman, Michal Woldiger and Ohad Tal; Likud MK Shalom Danino; Yisrael Beytenu MKs Sharon Nir and Evgeny Sova; National Unity party MK Orit Farkash-Hacohen; UTJ MK Yitzhak Pindrus; and Yesh Atid MK Vladimir Beliak.

Protesters against the Israeli coalition’s judicial overhaul and the Netanyahu government at a rally outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, March 27, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The protesters’ primary target is Rothman, the chair of the Knesset Constitution Law and Justice Committee and one of the key players in the coalition’s controversial push to overhaul the judiciary.

“This is our opportunity to give everything to push against the delegation of lies and hatred that comes here,” organizers said in a statement. “Our message is simple: whoever dismantles Israeli democracy should not expect a relaxing vacation in New York.”

The main protest is scheduled for Sunday at 2 p.m. (New York time) outside a conference at the Hilton Hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

The US protests have been held in parallel to rallies against the judicial overhaul in Israel, and are meant to support the Israeli demonstrators and express American opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline government.

US President Joe Biden has made clear that he believes Netanyahu should “walk away” from the judicial overhaul and has refrained from inviting the Likud leader to visit the White House.

Israelis protest the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv, on May 20, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

On Saturday night, tens of thousands of people demonstrated across Israel against the government’s judicial plans for the 21st consecutive week, days after Netanyahu said the legislation would return to the agenda following the recent passage of the contentious state budget.

Critics say the overhaul will sap the High Court of Justice of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic character and leaving the rights of minorities unprotected. Supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in what they see as an overly intrusive court system.

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