ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Barkat’s security guards scuffle with protesters during minister’s Boston visit

Economy minister’s office claims a demonstrator tried to attack, was arrested by local police; protest leaders say activist in hospital after being roughed up by security detail

A security guard with Economy Minister Nir Barkat throws a protestor to the ground, in Boston on June 8, 2023.  (Screenshot via Twitter used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law).
A security guard with Economy Minister Nir Barkat throws a protestor to the ground, in Boston on June 8, 2023. (Screenshot via Twitter used in accordance with clause 27a of the Copyright Law).

Security detail for Economy Minister Nir Barkat grappled with anti-government protesters on Thursday inside a Boston hotel, according to footage circulating on social media.

In the video, Barkat is seen walking through a hotel corridor surrounded by security guards as several demonstrators yell “shame” at the Likud lawmaker while filming him on their phones.

Security is seen shoving the demonstrators away; when one protester is seen slipping through the guards and running towards Barkat with his phone’s camera, one of the guards grabs him and throws him backward and onto the ground, and another guard then briefly grabs and roughs him up.

According to a statement from Barkat’s bureau, the protester attacked the former Jerusalem mayor and was subsequently arrested.

The leadership of the national protest movement said in a statement that “Barkat’s team called the federal police and said that Barkat was attacked. As can be seen clearly in this video, the man that was thrown to the ground was videotaping on his phone and clearly not attacking anyone.”

The protest movement said the tackled demonstrator could not walk after the incident and was taken to hospital.

Barkat has faced anti-government protesters at a number of events since arriving in New York City last week ahead of the annual Celebrate Israel Parade, a significant event for the area’s Jewish community that this year featured some tension over the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

When Barkat arrived in New York, protesters were waiting for him at his hotel at 6 a.m. and rallied outside his other public appearances throughout the week. There were also demonstrations against the other coalition lawmakers in the city.

After the parade last Sunday, protesters disrupted Barkat’s speech at a conference in New York, ambushing him from the crowd with shouts of “shame.”

Barkat canceled an appearance at Israel’s consulate in Boston on Thursday, amid the persistent protests against coalition lawmakers traveling abroad.

The protesters have been holding weekly rallies for the past several months and have built a network of hundreds in and around the city. Declaring a game of “hide and seek,” whenever one of the activists spotted a coalition member in public, they shared a photo and location in messaging groups, and other demonstrators were dispatched to the scene.

Otzma Yehudit lawmaker Simcha Rothman, an architect of the judicial overhaul scheme, had his own memorable encounter with the protesters while in New York for the parade, forcefully seizing a protester’s megaphone in a tense moment caught on video. The incident last Friday sparked outrage in Israel and the US.

Protesters and activists also accuse Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, who was in town for the parade, of mocking them at the event. In a widely circulated photo, Chikli is seen looking into the camera and holding up fingers near his mouth. The activists said Chikli was giving them the finger; he has said he was telling them to smile.

The protests abroad have discomfited coalition lawmakers. Chikli saw a meeting scheduled for Thursday with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington called off amid intense pressure from without and within the federation and after several of the invited rabbis said they would not attend.

Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis pulled out of a Los Angeles event last week amid a protest at the venue.

And Barkat is said to have canceled his Boston appearance after he accused the consul general in the city, Meron Reuben, of refusing to commit to preventing protesters from entering the conference.

The conference was organized by the Consulate General of Israel to New England and was scheduled to celebrate Israel’s 75th anniversary.

The event was set to take place at Temple Beth Elohim, whose own rabbi planned to protest against the conference from outside the building, according to a message from the rabbi shared by protesters.

“Israel’s ministers have come to realize in recent months that wherever they travel, they will encounter determined protesters fighting against the proposed judicial overhaul,” said Josh Drill, the international spokesperson for the protest movement in Israel. “It doesn’t matter if it is Tel Aviv, New York, London or Boston — wherever the destroyers of democracy go, we will be there. This protest is global and united.”

Other coalition lawmakers have also faced complications during visits abroad throughout the week.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich flew to Paris on Tuesday for an international gathering but faced protests and difficulty securing meetings with French officials and Jewish community leaders apparently opposed to his hardline ideology.

Smotrich’s office reached out to multiple French counterparts for meetings and was turned down, a French official told The Times of Israel.

However, Smotrich tweeted a picture of a meeting that he said included representatives from the CRIF umbrella group, the Central Consistory representing Orthodox communities, the Jewish National Fund, the Jewish Agency, and rabbinical leaders, among others. The minister said they met to discuss ties between Israel and French Jewish communities, challenges facing French Jews and the role of the state, and “strengthening aliyah [immigration] from France to Israel.”

The leaders of the Jewish groups sat out the meeting and had their deputies, or other members, attend the talk with Smotrich, Haaretz reported. Senior Israeli government officials usually meet with members of the local Jewish community when traveling abroad in order to maintain and build ties with the Jewish State.

Separately, Rothman also sparked tensions on Tuesday during an event with US Vice President Kamala Harris in Washington, where she stressed the importance of an independent judiciary.

Rothman stood out for not applauding the speech.

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