WELLESLEY – A celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley was marred on June 8, when a protestor was injured during a Boston demonstration against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform policies.
Israel’s Minister of Economy Nir Barkat was in Boston to participate in several events, including a 75th Israel anniversary celebration hosted by the Israeli Boston Consulate General at Temple Beth Elohim. During the demonstration, Israeli citizen and business development executive Yaniv Bejerano was forcefully grabbed by members of Barkat’s security team.
A video showed Bejerano and other protestors chanting and following Barkat down a hallway in the hotel. Bejerano was holding a cellphone in his hand, broke away from the group and tried to skirt past security. He was quickly grabbed and thrown to the ground by a security guard.
According to police, Bejerano complained of leg pain after the incident, and was taken by ambulance to Tufts Medical Center. Boston police questioned him at the scene and informed him that he was trespassing and would be arrested if he returned.
Barkat’s office charged that “a number of protesters tried to physically reach Minister Barkat and tried to repel his security guards of the Personal Security Unit. Thanks to the minister’s security guards, physical harm to the Israeli government was avoided.”
In a later statement on Twitter, Barkat, a former Jerusalem mayor, said, “Political murder is a matter of time in Israel. We are on a slippery and dangerous slope.”
More than 200 political, cultural, community and business leaders from throughout the Commonwealth attended the event at the temple, where security was extremely heavy. Wellesley Police set up security barriers and members of the Israeli security team carefully checked each car, opening trunks and checking under the chassis of the cars.
A large planned protest was cancelled when organizers learned that Barkat was not going to attend after the earlier incident at the hotel. No official reason was given.
When Ambassador Meron Reuben, consulate general, was asked why the Minister decided not to attend, he said, “no comment, thank you very much.”
Rabbi Joel Sisenwine of Beth Elohim had issued a statement a day earlier that he personally planned to join in “as long as the protest is peaceful and respectful of our neighbors.”
In a statement, Sisenwine said, “I currently believe that the current judicial reform proposal, as currently stated, is a threat to Israel’s democracy. The current reform takes too much power away from an independent judiciary, something we American Jews have learned to be an important part of the checks and balances of a healthy democratic system.
“An independent and strong judiciary is necessary to protect the rights of its minorities, whether it be protecting the rights of women or the LGBTQ+ community, Israeli’s minorities need to be protected, including its Palestinian citizens and residents, and the members of other religions.”
Inside the temple, the anniversary celebration went on without a hitch. Most attendees seemed unaware of the incident earlier in the day.
In his speech, Ambassador Reuben hailed the warm 75-year history between the United States and Israel, noting that the “special relationship has been going on for 11 minutes less than the existence of the State of Israel, thanks to President Harry Truman’s decision to immediately recognize the nascent Jewish State.
“Our special relationship has flourished over the years because despite the differences we share many common values. Our declaration of independence was inspired by yours.”
He briefly acknowledged the current political situation in Israel.
“You will not be surprised to hear that Israel is an imperfect democracy. Moreover, we, like you, have our own set of internal challenges. We are still grappling with important questions relating to our democratic system.
“Nevertheless, I am confident that Israel will remain a vibrant democracy,” he said.
Sophie Shnaper-Amzallag, a spokesperson for the protest group, said the organizers worked directly with Sisenwine in planning demonstrations against Barkat at Boston Common and at the temple. The protest itself involved a number of different groups, said Shnaper-Amzallag. The organizers asserted that Barkat “is representing the far-right Israeli government that is threatening to put an end to Israel as a liberal democracy.”