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Protesters Rally Against Netanyahu’s Government In New York City

Anti-Netanyahu Protests in NYC Demand Democratic Future for Israel

NEW YORK — There are a few common threads that run through this week’s anti-Netanyahu government protests in New York City: There is pride. There is anger. The crowds are generally older and overwhelmingly secular. And there are few concrete answers offered for the political and societal crisis that engulfs Israel.

A number of protest groups, including UnXeptable, Kaplan Force, Brothers in Arms and others, have combined their efforts in organizing wall-to-wall protests, including in Times Square, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hotel, outside the hotel where Netanyahu met U.S. President Joe Biden and another planned for Friday outside the United Nations, where Netanyahu will deliver a morning speech to the annual General Assembly.

The groups plan to continue their protests through Shabbat up until Netanyahu’s Saturday night departure back to Israel.

“I’m an agent of change. That’s what I am. When you have an opportunity to voice your concern you do it,” said Anat, who claims Long Island and Netanya as her homes. She spoke with Zenger News on Wednesday across the street from Netanyahu’s Park Avenue Hotel, where she and around 10 other protesters demonstrated in the mid-day breeze.

Anti-judicial reform protesters in New York City crowd the streets before the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2023. LUKE TRESS/FLASH90.

Signs held included one with Israeli and American flags intertwined with “Save Israel From Netanyahu,” written above. Other contained a handwritten message: “History will judge you, Bibi.” A third contained a cartoon-like sketch of Netanyahu with a Pinocchio nose. “Liar Liar, Pants on Fire,” it read. Others waved Israeli flags.

“This is a matter of great importance. I encourage every American Jew, every American, who cares about democratic values to stand up for what’s right,” said Anat. “And what’s right is that Israel stays as a democracy, as was promised in the Declaration of Independence. That is the contract we had with the State of Israel, and we will not change it. It’s not going to be a halachic stake. It’s not going to be a place unsafe for minorities. It will be a democratic, respectful state, as it has always aspired to be.”

Some of the protesters this week have lasered in on the issue of judicial reforms. Others have branched out to broader critiques of Netanyahu and members of his government, with accusations of corruption, misogyny, messianic tendencies and abuses of the Palestinians. At times, it becomes difficult to tell where the fight for democracy ends and where the fight against all things Bibi begins.

When asked what end game she and the other protestors were pursuing, Anat answered: “To retain democracy. And it’s one of those things that are very easy to tell whether you’re losing it or you’re not. And if things stay on course as they are, there will not be a democracy in Israel. And there is no doubt in my mind that’s where we’re headed.”

The answer was fairly consistent, give or take, with other protesters Zenger News spoke with. Of course, the concept of democracy and how to retain it can come in many different forms and flavors. But protesters, who seemed genuinely convinced of an imminent danger to Israel’s democratic foundations, seemed to find it difficult to articulate their preferred paths forward.

‘The line is very clear’

Nurit Bachar, originally from Kibbutz Yagur and now a resident of Connecticut, told Zenger News of her grandfather, Zvi Kaminsky Sela, who immigrated to Israel from Poland at the age of 8 after seeing his father murdered “just because he was Jewish.”

She said he fought with the British against the Nazis, then joined the pre-state Haganah militia before helping to found Kibbutz Yagur.

“My grandpa built a democracy. My grandpa built a home for all people who live in that home. He would not for one minute, despite the hate, put up with a country that would not live by democracy,” said Bachar.

She blames Netanyahu for being willing to shred the principles of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, “just so he can escape from prison. And that is unacceptable, to ruin the entire country of Israel that survived so much war and terror. Not by me, not by my father or mother, not by my grandmother or my grandfather.”

Anti-judicial reform protesters in New York City crowd the streets before the meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 20, 2023. LUKE TRESS/FLASH90.

Asked what exactly would be acceptable to completely halt the judicial reform process, whether compromise could be achieved and where exactly her red lines stood, Bachar, like others, was non-specific and non-committal.

“The line is very clear. Any attempt to destroy democracy is not acceptable,” she said, repeating the second sentence for emphasis.

Both Am Echad, an affiliate of the Orthodox Agudath Israel of America, along with the Orthodox Union, have issued statements critical of the ammunition the protests are giving those who already preach anti-Israel and antisemitic positions.

Queried as to whether Manhattan passers-by, almost all of whom are oblivious to Israel’s internal domestic strife, might mistake protesters’ messages for criticism of Israel as a whole, Bachar said the very premise of the question is, at heart, a pro-Netanyahu message.

“Just to raise this question means that there are people who are trying to spread the idea that people who fight for democracy are actually fighting against Israel,” she said. “That is another manipulation by Netanyahu. Everybody who gets to see the fight for democracy understands it’s a fight for democracy.”

It remains largely unclear, though, what defines a win for these protesters.

Produced in association with Jewish News Syndicate

Edited by Judy J. Rotich and Newsdesk Manager

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