(Times of Israel) – Several hundred protesters rallied in New York City’s Times Square on Tuesday to protest Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to the US for the UN General Assembly and meetings with President Joe Biden and other world leaders.
The demonstrators, mostly Israelis, carried Israeli flags that said, “Free in our land,” a line from the national anthem, and chanted, “Democracy or rebellion” and “shame” to the beat of a snare drum. They chanted, “If there won’t be equality, we’ll take down the government, you came down on the wrong generation.”
The demonstrators represented an array of activist groups based in Israel who oppose the government’s judicial overhaul legislation, which aims to diminish the independence and power of the courts.
Opponents say the legislative package will undermine Israel’s democracy and rights, and threatens the country’s security, economy and international standing. Its supporters say it will rein in an activist court system and restore power to elected officials.
An activist with the Brothers in Arms veterans group, Lior Hadary, said the
New York rallies were meant to send a message to world leaders that they should support democratic rights in Israel.
“The fight against Bibi is one of the biggest fights for democracy in the world,” Hadary said.
“I believe this is one frontier in the same battle, the battle of democracy against populism, against dictatorship,” said Hadary, who finished his service in an elite IDF combat unit shortly before the coalition took power.
“Since then I’m fighting for Israel again, but this time in the protests, in a civil way, not against enemies from outside, but enemies within.”
Netanyahu met German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday, ahead of his first ever meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and sit downs with other heads of state.
Netanyahu and Erdogan discussed regional and international issues and decided to continue advancing bilateral relations in trade, economic matters and energy, according to Israel’s Government Press Office. In his meeting with Zelensky, Netanyahu said Israel would continue to assist Ukraine on humanitarian issues.
Prior to departing for the US on Monday, Netanyahu lashed out at anti-overhaul protesters, accusing them of joining forces with Israel’s enemies such as Iran and the PLO in their activities against him abroad.
His departure was met with a protest of several hundred people at Ben Gurion International Airport, with chants urging the PM to “go and don’t come back”.
“Nothing surprises me anymore with these demonstrations,” he told a reporter.
“These are organised, financially backed demonstrations. They have crossed all borders. They have made it so that blocking roads is [ostensibly] a normal thing, that violently harassing public figures is a normal thing, that refusal [to serve in the military] is a normal thing. And therefore, when they defame Israel before the nations of the world, it seems normal to them.”
In a later statement issued amid an outcry in Israel over his comments, the Prime Minister’s Office said that Netanyahu had been referring to the fact that the anti-
overhaul protesters would be demonstrating in the US at the same time as pro-PLO and pro-BDS activists. The statement made no reference to the fact that Netanyahu had also linked the protesters to Iran.
The premier’s comments were decried by opposition politicians, who said that it was the actions of Netanyahu’s hardline government that were aiding the country’s enemies.
“There is no person who has destroyed our image in the world more than Netanyahu in recent months,” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said.
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz said that Netanyahu was causing “tremendous damage” to Israeli society with his conduct.
“Netanyahu’s attack, accusing the protesters in the US of colluding with our enemies, is serious and worthy of all condemnation,” Gantz said in a statement.
On Sunday night, thousands of Israelis rallied nationwide against the judicial overhaul.