NEW YORK — Anti-government demonstrators filed a harassment complaint against Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman early Saturday after he forcefully grabbed a megaphone away from one of the protesters while visiting New York.
Rothman, a key architect of the government’s controversial judicial overhaul, is one of several Israeli lawmakers in New York for the annual Celebrate Israel Parade on Sunday.
The lawmakers have been repeatedly targeted by anti-overhaul protesters in the city, who have largely focused on Rothman, the chair of the Constitution Law and Justice Committee.
Late Friday, Rothman appeared to lose his cool with demonstrators walking behind him and chanting with a megaphone as he walked back to his hotel from a meeting.
In a video shared by protesters, Rothman can be seen spinning around and forcibly grabbing the megaphone from a woman, before running off with it.
Further video showed protests continuing to scuffle with Rothman and his security as they tried to get the megaphone back. At least two people were pushed to the floor.
הרגע שבו חבר הכנסת רוטמן חוטף ממפגינה את המגפון *עובר על החוק.
אנחנו בדרך למשטרה. pic.twitter.com/XCsCzeIOHx
— Shany Granot-Lubaton (שני גרנות-לובטון) (@ShanyGranot) June 3, 2023
“Even Rothman’s violence won’t break our resolve,” the woman said in a statement.
She later filed a police complaint against the lawmaker for harassment.
It was not immediately clear if Rothman, a Knesset lawmaker, enjoys diplomatic immunity in New York.
מיד אחרי שחכ רוטמן חטף את המגפון מהפעילה בניו יורק. הפעילה שנפגעה, סטודנטית לתואר שני בקולומביה ועו"ד במקצועה, בדרכה להגיש תלונה במשטרת ניו יורק כעת.
אי אפשר שלא להשוות בין המראות המזעזעים של האלימות כלפי המפגינים בחדרה והאלימות המזעזעת של חבר הכנסת רוטמן כלפי הצעירה שהפגינה… pic.twitter.com/CdcTDQZFo3
— דמוקרטTV (@Democrat_TV) June 3, 2023
“This is Manhattan is not Hadera; democracy still exists here, so we can tell him to his face what we want, and no police officer will stop us from exercising basic freedom of expression,” said protest organizer Shany Granot.
“This is our opportunity to give everything to push against the delegation of lies and hatred that comes here,” protest organizers said in an earlier statement. “Our message is simple: whoever dismantles Israeli democracy should not expect a relaxing vacation in New York.”
Labor party leader Merav Michaeli said the move symbolized Rothman’s efforts to silence democracy in Israel.
“Someone who tries to seize democracy in Israel, don’t be surprised when he seizes a megaphone from a protester who is telling him the truth to his face,” Michaeli tweeted after the incident.
“The violent silencing precisely symbolized the violent silencing this government is trying to carry out in all facets of our lives. We will continue to fight them in all places and at all times,” she said.
The Israeli protesters in New York have been holding weekly rallies in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, as well as events targeting government ministers in New York and US supporters of the overhaul. They have built out a well-coordinated network of hundreds in and around the city in recent months, efforts that are paying off as they work to disrupt the lawmakers’ visits to New York. Group members alert organizers when they spot the politicians around the city by sending in photos and a location, and other nearby activists are then dispatched to the scene. Protesters confronted Rothman as he relaxed on a park bench in Brooklyn on Thursday to tell him that “he’s not wanted here.”
The Israeli protesters aim to express support for the protest movement in Israel and voice opposition to the judicial overhaul in the US. The US-based demonstrators work together with the protest leaders in Israel, some of whom are attending the march on Sunday.
Rothman decried the US demonstrations on Thursday.
“To the leaders of the protest against Israel’s democratically elected government, I say today: Is it not enough that you worked to damage critical unity among our fighting forces, and have both incited to and committed violence in Israel?” Rothman said.
He called on President Isaac Herzog “to condemn the organizations who stand ready to destroy the State of Israel’s most important relationship with world Jewry just to gain points in a domestic political struggle.”
UnXeptable called on the organizers of the Celebrate Israel Parade to rescind the invitations to the coalition lawmakers in a statement this week.
It’s unclear how many Israeli lawmakers will participate — reports this week put the figure as high as 18, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday told members of Likud to not attend due to public criticism over the cost of sending so many politicians abroad.