ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 147

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‘Democracy under attack’: Anti-overhaul protest outside Netanyahu-Biden meeting

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

Protesters wave flags and chant slogans near the site of a planned meeting between United States President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
Protesters wave flags and chant slogans near the site of a planned meeting between United States President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Hundreds of protesters urge the United States to support democratic protections in Israel as US President Joe Biden meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York City.

The crowd, mostly Israelis, chants “We’re not afraid,” “Shame,” and “We’ll never give up,” as the two leaders meet in a hotel in Midtown Manhattan.

Many of the demonstrators have come from Israel for the events, and others are Israelis who live in the US. Some non-Israeli US Jews also take part.

They represent an array of protest groups including Brothers in Arms, Pink Front, Building an Alternative, Kaplan Force and high-tech activists. Most are focused squarely on the government’s judicial overhaul, while others tie in issues including women’s rights and Israel’s policies toward Palestinians.

A copy of Israel’s Declaration of Independence is affixed to a lamp pole at the center of the protest.

During the Netanyahu-Biden meeting, an organizer announces to the audience that Biden stressed the importance of democracy to Netanyahu, eliciting an eruption of applause from the crowd.

“We are here to tell the world that Israel’s democracy is under attack. We are here to remind Bibi Netanyahu that he will not be able to destroy our democracy,” says Eyal Naveh, a leader of the Brothers in Arms group in Israel.

“In Jerusalem, in Tel Aviv, in London, in New York, we will be there,” Naveh tells the crowd. “We will not let you turn our country into a dictatorship.”

“The message we’re trying to deliver to President Biden and to the US public as a whole is that Bibi’s not Israel, and Israel is not Bibi,” says Tomer Shani, an Israeli living in New York.

“The vast majority of Israelis want a democratic Israel,” he says. “Israelis remain committed despite the actions of the Israeli government.”

New York City Comptroller Brad Lander, the highest Jewish elected official in New York, tells the crowd, “As people who love and care about Israeli democracy, we won’t stand by as Netanyahu and his cronies sabotage the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

“We won’t stand by as Netanyahu works to destroy the judiciary and the checks and balances necessary for democracy,” Lander says.

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