Hundreds rally against overhaul in NYC as Israeli expats join renewed protest push

Activists at Israeli consulate call for US support, give backing to protest movement in Israel, as similar rallies take place in several cities in US and Europe

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

Anti-government protesters outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, July 11, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Anti-government protesters outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, July 11, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

NEW YORK — Around 200 people demonstrated outside Israel’s consulate in New York City on Tuesday, as activists abroad joined the renewed protest push in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government advancing a key piece of legislation from its judicial overhaul package a day before.

The crowd made up largely of Israeli expats and American Jews chanted “shame,” and “democracy or rebellion” while holding placards that read, “Jewish values=social justice,” and “Kaplan is here,” referring to the main Tel Aviv location for protests.

The protesters in Midtown Manhattan also chanted against overhaul architects Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman, shouting, “Yariv Levin, Israel is not Poland,” in reference to the country’s legal system, and carrying signs that said, “Shame on Rothman.”

Among the protesters was a group wearing the distinct red-hooded robes made famous by the dystopian TV series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has been adopted by anti-overhaul protesters as a symbol of a possible oppressive future.

Moran Zer Katzenstein, the leader of the Building an Alternative women’s activist group in Israel, was in the crowd as part of a visit to connect with Jewish Americans and Israeli activists abroad.

“Israel is turning into a country I don’t recognize and I’m sure you will not recognize as well,” Katzenstein told the crowd. “The current government seeks to harm the rights of minorities and the rights of women and to turn Israel into a Jewish dictatorship.”

Anti-government protesters outside the Israeli consulate in New York City, July 11, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

Some protesters wore shirts from activist groups, including Israel’s Black Flags movement and the UnXeptable expat network.

Speakers urged the Biden administration to continue supporting the right to protest amid fears police will more violently crack down on demonstrators in Tel Aviv after the departure of the city’s police chief, Amichai Eshed, who said he stepped down amid pressure to use more force against protesters.

Rallies also took place on Tuesday outside Israeli diplomatic missions in London, Toronto, Copenhagen, Berlin and Houston, and events were scheduled for Boston and Vancouver.

On Monday night, activists in the US went to airports to equip travelers bound for Israel with protest gear so they could join a rally at Ben Gurion Airport upon arrival.

The activists said they met with Israelis headed to Israel on several flights from airports in New York, New Jersey and Atlanta, giving them flags, signs, whistles and shirts.

“We’re trying to be creative, and we’re trying to work together with the Israeli protesters,” said Shany Granot-Lubaton, a protest leader in New York.

The rallies also aim to “press the American administration and Biden” for support, she said.

“We need him to keep on pushing, to let the Israeli government know that as long as they’re ruining Israeli democracy and hurting the shared values of both countries, America can’t be a close friend of Israel,” Granot-Lubaton said.

Protesters demonstrate against the judicial overhaul, outside the US embassy branch office in Tel Aviv, July 11, 2023. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

UnXeptable has called for a rally in Washington on July 19 as President Isaac Herzog visits the US capital to address Congress. Herzog has hosted negotiations between the coalition and opposition regarding the judicial overhaul and called for compromise, but the talks have been unsuccessful.

On Friday in New York City some 150 people participated in a flotilla to the Statue of Liberty in protest of the overhaul plan, saying the monument symbolized freedom and values shared by the US and Israel.

Protesters declared the nationwide “day of disruption” in Israel on Tuesday after the Knesset approved the first reading of a controversial bill to curtail the Supreme Court’s oversight powers.

The legislation canceling the “reasonableness” yardstick used by the courts is one of several bills proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, comprised of his own Likud and its ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox allies.

The overhaul plan has provoked more than six months of sustained protests by opponents who say it is pushing the country toward authoritarian rule.

The vote early Tuesday morning marked the first Knesset approval of a judicial overhaul bill since Netanyahu suspended the far-reaching legislative package in late March.

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