MK Simcha Rothman, Head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, May 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israeli lawmaker grabs megaphone from NYC protester, who files a police report

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Israeli lawmaker grabs megaphone from NYC protester, who files a police report

MK Simcha Rothman, Head of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee seen during a committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, May 29, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

(JTA) — A far-right Israeli lawmaker grabbed a megaphone from a protester on a New York City street and rushed away, leading the protester to file a police report against him.

The altercation on Friday came ahead of this year’s Celebrate Israel Parade, which is expected to attract a large turnout of Jewish and expatriate Israeli anti-government protesters. Israeli right-wing lawmakers in town for the parade have been dogged by protesters who oppose the Israeli government’s efforts to weaken the judiciary.

A number of videos on social media show legislator Simcha Rothman, a key architect of the judicial overhaul, walking along a street in New York on Friday night and chatting with companions while being followed by Israeli protesters heckling him in Hebrew.

“Go back home and repair everything you’ve done, repent for what you’ve done and perhaps we will forgive you one day,” an unidentified female protester says in a video posted by Shany Granot-Lubaton, an Israeli expatriate in New York who is a leading organizer of local anti-government protests. “In the end, we’re all Jews.”

Until that moment, Rothman had not responded to the small coterie of protesters. But at that point, he spun around, wrested away the megaphone and rushed away.

A separate video posted by an Israeli news outlet, Democrat_TV, shows the protesters scuffling with Rothman’s entourage, and with Rothman eventually returning the megaphone. The outlet identified the protester as a lawyer studying for a master’s degree at Columbia University. Granot-Lubaton later posted a photo of the police report the protester filed. An officer will assess the complaint, but the fact that it was filed does not necessarily mean any charges will follow.

Rothman is one of a number of prominent and controversial Israeli lawmakers who are in New York to join Sunday’s parade. Israeli-led protests against those lawmakers, led by a movement called UnXeptable that supports mass anti-government demonstrations in Israel, already led one Israeli minister to cancel a speech in Los Angeles. UnXeptable has appealed to the parade’s organizers, the New York Jewish Community Relations Council, not to allow leading members of Israel’s governing coalition to join the proceedings. The movement has also called on American Jewish leaders to press Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli on comments he’s made denigrating LGBTQ people, Arab Israeli communities and Reform Jews when they meet with him this week.

Rothman, a member of the far-right Religious Zionist Party, is a leading target of the protests. He also backs changes that would make Israel’s Law of Return more restrictive. His participation in a panel in Israel in April convened by the Jewish Federations of North America descended into pandemonium when protesters kept interrupting him.

In a statement after the New York City incident reported by The Jerusalem Post, Rothman decried the protesters as “violent.”

“At some point, the demonstrators realized we were not moved by them, at which point they put a megaphone up to our ears (an attack) and shouted,” he said. “The security guards and I repeatedly told them to stop and to stay away, and they continued. After all the warnings, I took the megaphone that the demonstrator had pushed into my ear — without touching [the demonstrator], of course. After about half a block we reached a place [where] we could go inside and wait for the police.”

Bezalel Smotrich, the finance minister who leads Rothman’s party, said in a tweet that Rothman was the victim of violence and called on U.S. and Israeli authorities to prosecute the “trolls” who have pursued him.

In addition to the mass weekly protests in Israel, the judicial overhaul has sparked the censure of Diaspora Jewish organizations that customarily refrain from commenting on Israel’s internal politics.

In March, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended the advance of the reforms under pressure of the protests, international opprobrium and dissent within his own Likud Party. He has not yet brought the reforms back to the table, although he is under pressure from far-right partners and has said he plans to do so. Protests against the overhaul have continued unabated.

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