The New York Police Department closed a complaint filed against member of Knesset Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism Party after he pulled a megaphone away from a protester trailing him in Manhattan on Saturday evening.
In a video of the incident, Rothman and his wife, Chana, are seen walking along Madison Avenue with their bodyguards as several protesters yell at them in Hebrew. One man repeatedly shouts: “Go home. Free the country.”
At one point, Rothman spins around and grabs a megaphone out of the hands of a female protester who had been shouting into it and continues on, crossing 46th Street.
“A small group of violent protesters attacked me and my wife as we walked late at night in New York. They blocked our way, stepped on my wife Chana’s leg and cursed, including death wishes,” Rothman said in an explanatory message to the press.
“The guards called the police. We described where we were and continued to walk as we ignored the protesters. At some point, the demonstrators realized that we were ignoring them. Then they put a megaphone to our ears (an attack in every respect) and shouted.
“Both myself and the security guards repeatedly told them to stop and distance themselves and they continued.
“After all the warnings, I took the megaphone from the demonstrator that she pushed into my ear without touching her, of course. After about half a block we reached a place where we could enter and wait for the police. The police accompanied me to the hotel and the incident ended,” he said.
Rothman added, “The violent attackers came from Israel. Just as in Israel, they represent a small and violent group here, too. It’s permissible to protest. It’s forbidden to physically attack and harass MKs.
“The fact that Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz don’t condemn the violent attacks on Knesset members, and even encourage them, testifies more than anything else that they’ve become an opposition to the state,” Rothman said, referring to leaders of the Yesh Atid and National Unity parties respectively.
Rothman is in New York to attend Sunday’s annual “Celebrate Israel Parade” and headline the Jerusalem Conference New York 2023 organized by Israel National News, where he will discuss judicial reform with Attorney Alan Dershowitz.
The lawmaker has been a frequent target of demonstrators.
Opposition members treated the incident as symbolic. Merav Michaeli, leader of the Labor Party, tweeted: “Someone who tries to seize democracy in Israel, don’t be surprised when he seizes a megaphone from a protester who is telling him the truth to his face.
“The violent silencing precisely symbolized the violent silencing this government is trying to carry out in all facets of our lives. We will continue to fight them every time, everywhere,” she said.
Activists have claimed that they aren’t giving Rothman a minute’s peace since he arrived in New York, proudly tweeting that they harassed him even as he sat on a park bench in Brooklyn last week.
Rothman denied the incident took place as it was described on Twitter by a protest organizer.
“Not that it surprises anyone that protest activists are lying, but I sat happily there for almost an hour, and I was approached by two women, a mother and her daughter,” he tweeted.
“They started talking to me, and the second I started answering them, the mother started shouting and after a few minutes they left. Level of detachment from reality = like any of their other tweets.”
‘With honor and appreciation’
Despite the incident, Rothman said that his U.S. visit has been positive: “Over Shabbat, as well as during a visit on Thursday, the Jewish community here welcomed me with great joy. With honor and appreciation. There is a lot of support and encouragement to proceed with the reform plan, but even the few who disagreed came and were respectful.”
As the opposition’s harassment campaign against Knesset members in Israel spilled over into the United States, other government ministers were targeted as well.
Protesters shouted “Shame” at Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Minister for Social Equality Amichai Chikli at the entrance to a Manhattan synagogue on Saturday. And on May 30, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis pulled out of an event in Los Angeles following a protest.
Speaking on behalf of Akunis at the event, Consul General of Israel to the Pacific Southwest Hillel Neuman told those gathered: “He said that he felt his presence here might cause more provocations from the people outside and the protesters, and he said he didn’t want to bring a bad feeling or bad vibes to anything associated with him and the State of Israel, and therefore he decided not to come.”
Perhaps none has been as heavily targeted as Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and a key figure in the government’s push for judicial reform.
Protesters have interrupted a number of his public appearances and attempted to prevent him from leaving his home.
On May 28, he was greeted by angry protesters upon his arrival at Tel Aviv University to take part in a panel on judicial reform. They also attempted to shout him down during the panel discussion.
On April 24, Rothman was continuously interrupted by hecklers during a panel discussion at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly in Tel Aviv.
Before the panel discussion, activists disrupted an interview between Rothman and JNS, surrounding Rothman and shouting at him. One slapped a ball cap with the group’s Achim L’Neshek (“Brothers in Arms”) logo on Rothman’s head. He calmly but quickly removed it.
While Rothman reiterated that he defends the right of Israeli citizens to protest, including at the homes of MKs, he said the anti-judicial reform protesters have crossed every red line.