NEW YORK — Hundreds of protesters on Wednesday urged the US to support democratic protections in Israel as US President Joe Biden met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York City.
The crowd, mostly made up of Israelis, chanted “We’re not afraid,” “Shame,” and “We’ll never give up,” as the two leaders met in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan.
Many of the demonstrators came from Israel for the events, and others were Israeli expats. Some non-Israeli US Jews also took part.
They represented an array of Israeli protest groups including Brothers in Arms, Pink Front, Building an Alternative, Kaplan Force and high-tech activists. Most were focused on the government’s judicial overhaul, while others tied in issues including women’s rights and Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.
A copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence was affixed to a lamp post at the center of the protest. Whistles, drums and horns created a deafening racket as heavy police and special service security separated the crowd from the hotel.
During the Netanyahu-Biden meeting, an organizer announced to the audience that Biden had stressed the importance of democracy to Netanyahu, eliciting an eruption of applause from the crowd.
“We are here to tell the world that Israel’s democracy is under attack. We are here to remind Bibi Netanyahu that he will not be able to destroy our democracy,” said Eyal Naveh, a leader of the Brothers in Arms group in Israel, referring to the prime minister by his nickname.
“In Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, in London, in New York — we will be there,” Naveh told the crowd. “We will not let you turn our country into a dictatorship.”
“The message we’re trying to deliver to President Biden and to the US public as a whole is that Bibi’s not Israel, and Israel is not Bibi,” said Tomer Shani, an Israeli living in New York.
“The vast majority of Israelis want a democratic Israel,” he said. “Israelis remain committed despite the actions of the Israeli government.”
New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, the highest Jewish elected official in the city, told the crowd, “As people who love and care about Israeli democracy, we won’t stand by as Netanyahu and his cronies sabotage the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
“We won’t stand by as Netanyahu works to destroy the judiciary and the checks and balances necessary for democracy,” Lander said.
The protesters in New York are holding events throughout the week as Netanyahu meets with world leaders and attends the United Nations General Assembly. The main protest event is scheduled for Friday morning at the UN while Netanyahu delivers a speech to the world body.
Some conservative US Jewish groups have pushed back against the protests.
Am Echad, an affiliate of the Agudath Israel of America Orthodox umbrella group, said it was “dismayed at the reckless and inciteful rhetoric adopted by the Israeli protest movement” during Netanyahu’s visit.
The protest activities “foment anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiments in the greater American society and world media,” a statement from Am Echad said, stressing that the group does not have a position on the government’s judicial policies, and supports the right to democratic freedoms, including protests.
A coalition of right-wing groups led by the Zionist Organization of America announced a rally in support of Netanyahu outside his hotel on Thursday, at the same time as a protest by the anti-overhaul activists.