Dozens of protesters demonstrated outside a room where judicial overhaul architect MK Simcha Rothman was speaking at the World Zionist Congress in Jerusalem on Friday, briefly trapping him inside until he was rescued by police.
The incident occurred following several tumultuous voting sessions at the Congress, including on motions to condemn the judicial overhaul and other government policies.
Video from the scene showed protesters outside the room at Jerusalem’s International Convention Center shouting “democracy” and “shame” as Rothman, a lawmaker from the Religious Zionist Party and one of the architects of the coalition’s controversial judicial overhaul, stayed behind a locked door, with guards barring the demonstrators from entering.
Hebrew media reports said that police were called and managed to take him out via a back door after about 30 minutes as the crowd of protesters sang Hatikvah, Israel’s national anthem.
Rothman came to meet with right-wing delegates of the extraordinary congress, which was called in celebration of Israel’s 75th independence day, but which is occurring amid a wave of protests over the judicial overhaul that the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leading.
אירוע מעניין שמתפתח עכשיו בקונגרס הציוני בבנייני האומה בירושלים:
צירי הקונגרס הציוני, יהודים מישראל ומחו״ל, מפגינים מחוץ לחדר שבו נמצא שמחה רוטמן, שלא מצליח לצאת ונותר בחדר. שוטרים הגיעו למקום pic.twitter.com/6qPdV94l0s
— Or-ly Barlev ~ אור-לי ברלב (@orlybarlev) April 21, 2023
Members from left and centrist groups within the WZC, which has about 2,000 delegates, submitted multiple draft motions critical of the overhaul, which seeks to transfer some of the judiciary’s powers to the legislative and executive branches, in moves critics say will undermine Israel’s democracy.
As a majority in favor of those motions emerged, right-wing delegates on Thursday insisted on switching to a more details voting scheme than the expedited procedure that had been agreed upon, creating a filibuster. The Presidium of the WZC, which determines procedure, voted to postpone the votes and hold them online at a later time.
The WZC, which is wrapping up this week, is taking place ahead of the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly, which is scheduled to open Sunday in Jerusalem. JFNA has also criticized the judicial overhaul.
The World Zionist Congress’ votes are nonbinding and the organization has little influence on government policy. However, its votes do carry symbolic significance as it comprises Jewish delegates from many countries and is one the world’s oldest Zionist organizations, founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897.
Advocates of the overhaul, which the coalition said it would freeze until May following protests that had briefly paralyzed Israel’s economy, dispute this and say it will enhance democratic principles by introducing more accountability, which they say is lacking, on the part of the judiciary.
“With the General Assembly in view, the right-wing bloc, which says it is promoting democracy, has chosen to obstruct democratic processes to try to mute the voice of Diaspora Jewry, which is critical and worried about the dangerous overhaul,” Anna Kislanski, chief executive officer at the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, told the Times of Israel. “This is not only cowardly and undemocratic, but destined to fail.”
Kislanski said she expected protests will take place outside, and possibly inside, the GA in connection with the plan to host Netanyahu, as is customary from previous GA events, in his capacity as prime minister.