Anti-overhaul protesters rally outside UN as Gallant meets with secretary-general

Dozens chant ‘We’ll never give up’ as defense minister holds closed meeting with UN chief focused on peacekeepers in Lebanon

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Anti-overhaul activists protest outside UN Headquarters as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in New York City, August 28, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Anti-overhaul activists protest outside UN Headquarters as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant meets with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, in New York City, August 28, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — Dozens of Israelis protested outside UN Headquarters in New York City on Monday as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant met with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Standing across from the UN, the protesters chanted “Dem-o-cratia” and “We’ll never give up” to the beat of a snare drum, with the noise reaching the UN’s main entrance.

The crowd wore shirts from Israeli protest groups and carried signs that said, “Be a leader, not a coward,” and “Gallant: We saved you from Bibi, now you save us from Bibi,” referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his nickname.

Netanyahu fired Gallant earlier this year after the defense minister spoke out against the government’s divisive judicial overhaul. Gallant’s dismissal set off massive protests throughout Israel, and Netanyahu later reversed the decision amid heavy public pressure.

The anti-overhaul protesters, led by the ex-pat activist group UnXeptable, have hounded Israeli officials during visits to the region throughout the year, and demonstrated outside Gallant’s hotel early Monday morning.

“Gallant owes his position as defense minister to us, to the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who protested in the streets when he was dismissed by Netanyahu for merely doing his duty to safeguard Israel. We’re here to remind him of his pledge,” protesters said in a statement.

The activists planned rallies for Tuesday outside Gallant’s hotel and the Israeli consulate.

Gallant flew to the US on Wednesday night, and on Sunday attended a Friends of the IDF event in Chicago. He was also set to meet with Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, the Defense Ministry said ahead of the trip.

Gallant’s meeting with Guterres was closed to the press, as are all of Gallant’s events during his US trip.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (center) with Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan (left) at UN headquarters in New York for a meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, August 28, 2023. (Twitter screenshot, used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

One protester confronted Gallant inside the UN as he walked alongside Erdan.

“Gallant, protect democracy. You came to the UN. Protect our democracy. Don’t let them destroy our democracy,” the protester said, before being separated from the minister by security.

Guterres’s office said he and Gallant discussed the UN peacekeeping mission in Lebanon. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli side.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) meets with United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, at the UN headquarters in New York, August 29, 2023. (United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres)

Last month, Guterres said the IDF had “obviously” used excessive force during a major counter-terror operation in Jenin, in a rare, direct condemnation of Israel from the secretary-general. Israel’s UN mission called the allegation “shameful” and demanded a retraction, which Guterres’s office dismissed. The IDF said all 12 Palestinians killed in the Jenin operation were combatants, and most were claimed by terror groups.

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