Hundreds rally against overhaul at Israeli consulate in NYC after pause announced

Israeli and American Jewish demonstrators call for continued pressure on Netanyahu government after he agrees to delay legislative push

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

Protesters against the Israeli coalition's judicial overhaul and the Netanyahu government at a rally outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, March 27, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Protesters against the Israeli coalition's judicial overhaul and the Netanyahu government at a rally outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, March 27, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — Hundreds of Israelis and American Jews protested against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul outside the Israeli consulate in New York City on Monday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that the coalition would pause the legislative push.

Protesters draped with Israeli flags and carrying umbrellas gathered in drizzling rain carrying signs saying, “Opposition is necessary,” “dictatorship ahead,” and “democracy = an end to the occupation.”

The rally was the latest in a series of protests in the region meant to express solidarity with the mass demonstrations taking place in Israel.

The protests have also targeted US backers of the judicial overhaul along with visiting coalition lawmakers. The demonstrations have picked up pace and grown in size in recent weeks.

The hundreds of protesters speaking English and Hebrew spilled outside the area for the rally cordoned off by police in midtown Manhattan, jamming up the sidewalk across from the consulate.

Speakers including activists, rabbis and elected officials who delivered messages calling for continued pressure against the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary, despite Netanyahu’s announcement hours earlier.

The US demonstrators were more focused on Palestinian rights than the protest movement in Israel, with speakers and signs at the New York rally repeatedly referring to the West Bank occupation.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the director of T’ruah, a prominent rabbinic rights organization, said the rally was held “in solidarity with the Israelis who have been on the street for three months including in the middle of the night last night.”

“We are not accepting pathetic attempts at compromise,” she said, referring to Netanyahu’s decision to delay the legislative push earlier in the day.

“We are standing our ground and we are not going to stop protesting” until the legislation is halted for good, she said.

Jacobs also read a statement sent in by US House Representative Jerry Nadler, a Jewish lawmaker from New York City.

“The unprecedented protest taking place across Israel has shown the world that the Israeli people will not remain silent,” Nadler’s statement said.

Nadler said Netanyahu freezing the legislation was a “welcome development,” but that “it is clear that Israel remains at an inflection point.”

Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine addressed the crowd in Hebrew, saying, “I want you all to know that myself and many others of us here in New York support you, are backing you up.”

“To my friends, to my family in Israel that are fighting now for democratic values, fighting now for equality, fighting now for an independent and strong judiciary, know that I support you, that here in New York we support you,” he added in English.

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, who is Jewish, called the protest movement a “pivotal movement.”

“We will not let this government of Netanyahu and [Bezalel] Smotrich and [Itamar] Ben Gvir drive us off that bridge,” he said, referring to the leading two far-right ministers in the coalition.

“We’re not going to trade a delay on this vote for Ben Gvir getting his own armed police force,” he said. Netanyahu promised Ben Gvir a “national guard” unit on Monday in exchange for Ben Gvir backing the pause to the legislation.

“We are going to keep organizing and keep demanding a genuine Israeli democracy,” Lander said.

The protesters chanted in Hebrew, “Democracy or revolt,” and “If there is no equality, we’ll block Madison, you came down on the wrong generation,” a play on the Tel Aviv protesters’ chant to close the city’s central Avalon Highway.

Two protesters carried handwritten signs saying, “Our hope is not yet lost,” and “to be a free people in our land,” an homage to the Israeli national anthem.

Asaf Zamir outside Israel’s consulate in New York City shortly after quitting his position as consul general in protest, March 26, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

The rally was held a day after Israel’s consul general in New York, Asaf Zamir, quit his position in protest. Zamir met with some of the same demonstrators on Sunday outside the consulate after announcing his resignation.

Also Monday, protesters demonstrated in Princeton, New Jersey, outside of a lecture by Ronen Shuval of the right-wing Im Tirtzu organization and a member of the Tikvah Fund, which has supported the judicial overhaul in Israel.

Photos shared by the Israeli-led protest group, UnXeptable, showed several dozen demonstrators outside Shuval’s appearance.

The New England branch of the Israeli American Council also called a protest in Boston on Monday.

The protesters have also held weekly rallies on Sunday in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park, sometimes drawing hundreds of participants.

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