Anti-government protesters interrupt Karhi, Rothman at libertarian confab

Karhi spars with crowd, falsely claiming he never told reservists to ‘go to hell,’ says protesters ‘held captive’ by propaganda media; scuffles break out during Rothman appearance

Michael Horovitz is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel

Israelis protest Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi's appearance at a libertarian conference in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)
Israelis protest Communication Minister Shlomo Karhi's appearance at a libertarian conference in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/ Flash90)

Anti-government demonstrators interrupted the appearances of Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Knesset Constitutional, Law and Justice Committee chair Simcha Rothman at a libertarian conference in Tel Aviv on Sunday.

Karhi’s sparred with hecklers after they called him “irresponsible” and “fascist,” and told him, “We don’t want to hear you.” The minister denied, falsely, that he had ever told reservist pilots to “go to hell.”

In a social media post in March, Karhi wrote that those who refuse to show up for IDF reserve duty in protest of the judicial plan can “go to hell.” On Sunday, he claimed to have never made the well-documented comments.

“A lie and falsehood. This incident is the reason and proof that we need a competitive and diverse media. You are an audience held captive by propaganda channels,” the minister said at the event.

Last month, Karhi unveiled a plan to shutter the Second Authority for Television and Radio, responsible for “ensuring the transmission of reliable, fair and balanced information,” and to loosen news broadcast licensing regulations.

Protesters against the government’s judicial overhaul plan have been hounding and heckling coalition politicians at events across the country in recent months as they seek to keep up the pressure on the government to shelve its far-reaching plans to shackle the judiciary.

Sunday’s FreedomCon event, organized by the libertarian Israeli Freedom Movement and the local Ayn Rand Institute, hosted a diverse range of researchers, journalists, politicians, and businesspeople.

Roy Katz, the host of the event, tried to calm the crowd and urged them to allow Karhi to speak.

“Your protest has been heard and noted. Let the communications minister answer, let’s conduct a discussion. People came to hear the communications minister,” he said.

One of the organizers also sparred with protesters, going on stage and telling protesters to “keep your mouths shut.”

“You are at a private event that costs money,” he said, adding, “You did not purchase the right to cancel the event.”

“We will call the police. I ask without violence, without force. We will call the police and remove people in an organized way. We ask of you gentleman, all those who are interrupting freedom of expression, let people speak,” he said.

Protesters also interrupted Rothman, who has spearheaded the coalition’s controversial proposals along with Justice Minister Yariv Levin, when he took the stage.

A protester told him to “come out of Kohelet’s closet,” in reference to the right-wing Kohelet Policy Forum, a think tank that was deeply involved in drawing up the overhaul proposals.

Footage showed scuffles between protesters and crowd members who wanted to hear the lawmaker speak, as organizers tried to calm the auditorium.

According to the Ynet news site, some of the participants were removed from the hall by police.

On Saturday night, hundreds of thousands rallied across Israel, as part of ongoing demonstrations against the contentious plans, with the Knesset’s reopening for its summer session Sunday, raising the possibility of a renewed push to pass the explosive bills to radically curtail the judiciary

As it stands, the coalition has proposed to bring most judicial appointments under government control and curb the oversight powers of the High Court of Justice.

Netanyahu halted the legislative process last month to make room for compromise talks at the President’s Residence. No tangible progress has been reported to date, but Netanyahu voiced support Sunday for the negotiations at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

Analysts and commentators believe the coalition will not advance any of the legislation until the passage of the state budget, which the ruling bloc must do by May 29 or face automatic elections.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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