NEW YORK — At the New York offices of JVP, the venture capital fund of former Israeli lawmaker Erel Margalit, high-tech workers and members of the Brothers and Sisters in Arms reservist protest group met Thursday to discuss the ongoing fight of the anti-judicial overhaul movement, the demonstrations and the blocking of the controversial legislation.
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu moves forward with US President Joe Biden and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman to reach a multi-party agreement to normalize relations between Jerusalem and Riyadh, and the rest of the Muslim world, Israeli protesters are not taking their foot off the gas.
As long as Netanyahu does not completely turn away from his intention to pass another set of legislation, and for as long as the Basic Law barring judges from using the test of “reasonableness” to strike down government decisions and appointments remains in force, protest groups are preparing for a long winter and an exhausting struggle.
The protests are no longer just spontaneous events, but have become a force looking to the future. For the leaders of the movement, Netanyahu’s ties to the extremist members of his coalition require the continuation of the massive task in order to preserve the democratic values of the State of Israel.
Margalit, the owner of Jerusalem Venture Partners, is one of the regular speakers at demonstrations in Jerusalem, and this week was one of the main speakers at the large rally at Times Square, the day before Netanyahu’s meeting with Biden.
Margalit gave the protest groups a large meeting room at his foundation’s office on Grand Street in SoHo on Thursday, and told them: “At any time you’re in New York and looking for a place to sit, work or meet, our offices are open to you.”
At the main entrance to the office, a large picture hangs of Margalit and a group of protesters marching on the Brooklyn Bridge at a rally to defend Israeli democracy in July.
The march was organized by the UnXeptable group, an organization founded by Israelis living in the US which has become the driving force behind demonstrations in dozens of locations across the country.
Offir Gutelzon, a high-tech entrepreneur from Palo Alto and a protest activist in the US, founded UnXeptable, which at the start of the week projected an image of Netanyahu in a prisoner’s uniform onto the walls of the world-famous Alcatraz prison.
After a series of demonstrations against Netanyahu’s visit on the West Coast, Gutelzon flew to New York to join rallies against the premier in Manhattan.
Gutelzon sat Thursday at the JVP offices when three leaders of Brothers and Sisters in Arms, who came especially from Israel for Netanyahu’s visit, presented the Israeli struggle to a group of about 40 high-tech leaders.
Among the participants at the meeting were Outbrain CEO Yaron Galai; Liran Tancman, CEO and founder of Beersheba-based cyber firm CyActive and CEO of software firm Rezilion; Oded Hareven, CEO of Akeyless; Tsiki Naftaly, CEO of Copilot; April Crichlow, chief marketing officer at Centrical; and Amir Eilat, product manager at Nanit.
Some of the companies are part of the JVP investment portfolio. JVP partners were also present at the meeting, including Keren Kay, Tom Davie and Lidice Mendoza.
Brothers and Sisters in Arms members wore their signature army green shirts to the meeting. Among those who came from Israel was Omer Granit, a partner of EnPar Capita, the founder of West 4 Capital Management, and former CEO of Mixer.
Another participant was architect Roy Gordon — earlier this year, the far-right chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair Simcha Rothman, a key architect of the overhaul, grabbed a megaphone from Gordon’s partner during a demonstration.
Maj. (res.) Bat-el Valentine Blaish, a graduate of the IDF Naval Academy, explained to participants that without the High Court of Justice, she would not have been allowed to join the course and become a trailblazer.
“I’m not satisfied with that,” she said. “I was the first woman in many positions, and I want to make sure that I will not be the last, and that our children are able to achieve these goals. Without the court, we will not be able to preserve these achievements.”
One of the participants at the meeting who isn’t Israeli asked: “What is the timetable? When do you fear the Israeli democracy will cease to be democratic?”
Blaish responded that the process would happen step by step, in small stages, and that the fear is Netanyahu will continue to pass amendments to different laws, exactly as he announced that he would in recent days during his meetings in the US.
In meetings with tech CEO Elon Musk and Biden, the prime minister said described, perhaps disingenuously, the changes he would make to the judicial system as “minor corrections.”
One of the subjects put on the table by Brothers and Sisters in Arms was their need for funding.
“We are facing a protracted campaign. It won’t end soon,” one of the activists said.
One of the participants revealed in the meeting that the American branch of Brothers and Sisters in Arms already has approval as a registered association and recognition from tax authorities — that is, approval to raise donations in a way that allows donors to legally deduct their contributions.
In the US, tax laws allow entities to register a total of up to 10% of turnover as a recognized expense if it is donated to groups engaging in public activities, provided that they obtained the appropriate approval.
These tax regulations mean donations from large bodies and family foundations can have a big turnover. In practice, the American system encourages big donations, and there are family and public foundations that look for associations and organizations to donate to every year.
Margalit told the meeting participants about the significant activities of JVP in Kiryat Shmona’s food tech industry, and their activity in Beersheba’s cyber industry.
He said that within the military and tech industry, the various sectors of Israeli society — Arab, ultra-Orthodox, secular, religious — cooperate, but the current government is dismantling the delicate social fabric of the Jewish state.
Margalit explained more about the huge demonstrations in Israel and the US: “Today, we host here at the foundation a group of leaders standing at the forefront of protest activities. The goal of this meeting is to brainstorm the next steps, both in Israel and the US.”
Brothers and Sisters in Arms and other protest groups continue to rally in New York while remaining aware of the significant political breakthrough with Riyadh that Netanyahu apparently achieved during his time in the US.
But the emerging understandings with Saudi Arabis won’t change their general view: While it is important to reach a deal with Riyadh, it is forbidden to take their eyes off the prize.
Riyadh and Washington won’t preserve Israel’s democracy — that is the job of the protest movement.
This article was translated and adapted from the original on Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site.