Protest group demands MK be barred from Sunday Israel Parade

Far-right judicial overhaul architect defends seizing protester’s megaphone in NYC

Simcha Rothman says he and his wife were attacked, says he took bullhorn ‘without touching’ protester; complaint against him closed by NY police

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman (C) scuffles with a protester in New York as he grabs her megaphone on June 2, 2023. (Screenshot used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman (C) scuffles with a protester in New York as he grabs her megaphone on June 2, 2023. (Screenshot used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman on Sunday issued a statement in his defense two days after he was filmed forcefully seizing a protester’s megaphone in New York City.

The incident Friday sparked outrage in Israel and the US, with the protesters in New York demanding that Rothman be disinvited from a major parade in support of Israel that will be held in the city later Sunday.

They also filed a complaint with New York police, which was closed on Saturday.

In a statement, Rothman claimed that before he was filmed snatching the megaphone, the small group of demonstrators attacked him and his wife, “blocking our path, stomping on my wife Hannah’s foot and cursing, in particular death wishes.”

There was no video of this alleged incident.

As his security detail called police, Rothman said he and his wife ignored the protesters and continued on their way, which he alleged further incensed them.

“Then they placed the megaphone next to our ears (assault in the full sense of the word) and shouted,” he said.

Footage showed the woman with the megaphone was several feet away from Rothman when he turned to forcibly pry away the bullhorn several seconds after she last used it, with a security guard standing between them.

The Religious Zionism MK argued he and the guards repeatedly warned the demonstrators to stay away before he eventually grabbed the megaphone “that she shoved to my ear, without touching her of course.”

Rothman said he and his entourage then walked half a block before entering a building to wait for police, who escorted him to his hotel.

“Marginal events, but not at all marginal in their importance,” he said.

The confrontation occurred after the start of Shabbat, when observant Jews such as Rothman refrain from activities such as work and writing. His statement was issued early Sunday morning local time in New York, several hours after Shabbat ended there.

Several coalition lawmakers expressed support for Rothman.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the far-right Religious Zionism party, tweeted, “The violence against him crossed all red lines long ago.” Smotrich additionally expressed hope that local authorities bring charges against the protesters.

MK Simcha Rotman, head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Smotrich denounced the demonstrators as a “handful of violent trolls who are eroding the foundations of our democracy.” He added that Rothman will continue to be a leading figure in the judicial overhaul push as chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

MK Tally Gotliv of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party claimed the use of a megaphone near Rothman was an “assault in every sense” and praised him for his “quick instinct.”

“Oh, the hypocrisy of the left,” she said on Twitter.

Likud MK Ariel Kallner also accused the protesters of hypocrisy and said he supported Rothman, “who is contending with vile thugs.”

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 march is a significant event for the city’s Jewish community and a major expression of solidarity with the Jewish state, but this year’s parade has been marred by discord over the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

The lawmakers visiting New York have been repeatedly targeted by anti-overhaul protesters, who have focused on Rothman for his key role in advancing the judicial legislation.

Late Friday, Rothman appeared to lose his cool with demonstrators walking behind him and denouncing him with a megaphone as he walked back to his hotel.

In a video shared by protesters, Rothman can be seen spinning around and forcibly grabbing the megaphone from a woman, then running off with it.

Further video showed protesters continuing to scuffle with Rothman and his security detail as they tried to get the megaphone back. At least two people were pushed to the floor.

“Even Rothman’s violence won’t break our resolve,” the woman who had held the megaphone said in a statement.

She later filed a police complaint against the lawmaker for harassment. Police closed the complaint on Saturday.

The protesters appealed to the parade’s organizers on Saturday, asking them to condemn Rothman for seizing the megaphone and rescind his invitation from the parade.

“His behavior not only shames Israel but also goes against the principles of democracy and Judaism that we value,” the protesters said in a statement.

The leader of the opposition’s Labor party, Merav Michaeli, said the incident 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.

Protesters from the Israeli ex-pat group UnXeptable rally in New York City, June 2, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The protesters in New York are part of a network of Israeli activists in the US and other countries called UnXeptable. They 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.

Activists from Israel, including members of the Brothers in Arms group, have joined the New York protesters ahead of Sunday’s parade. Other protesters flew into New York from other parts of the US.

The demonstrators held another rally on Saturday outside an event featuring Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli. Several dozen participants, many wearing shirts representing protest groups in Israel, shouted “shame” at Chikli as he entered the building, and sang and chanted from the sidewalk while the minister was inside.

Some of the event’s attendees taunted the protesters, with one repeatedly shouting “Netanyahu” and “Likud” at the rally. Most interactions between the two groups were friendly.

The Saturday rally was one in a series against government representatives at their appearances in and around New York City throughout the week.

UnXeptable called on the organizers of the Celebrate Israel Parade to rescind the invitations to the coalition lawmakers in a statement this week.

The Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City, May 22, 2022. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

It’s unclear how many Israeli lawmakers will participate — reports this week put the figure as high as 18, but Netanyahu on Wednesday told members of Likud not to attend due to public criticism over the cost of sending so many politicians abroad.

The Israeli demonstrators in New York 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 protest leaders in Israel.

Some of the activists will march in Sunday’s parade with the progressive group Ameinu.

The weekly protests in Israel saw slightly increased turnout Saturday evening over last week, with the rallies boosted by renewed anger at police over a forceful crackdown on a Friday night protest near Netanyahu’s private residence in Caesarea, and over the incident with Rothman.

Various Hebrew media outlets estimated that between 95,000 and 140,000 people attended the main rally on Kaplan Street in Tel Aviv, alongside thousands of others in some 150 locations around the country, in the 22nd week of regular protests against the now-paused government plan. Last week’s Tel Aviv rally drew an estimated 80,000 people.

During a rally in Caesarea on Saturday, protest leader Shikma Bressler denounced the New York incident, saying: “Rothman’s violence toward a protester in New York shows that the leadership has lost its ability to rule with legitimate means, and is therefore employing force exactly like dictatorial regimes.”

Most Popular
read more: