Hours before a group of Israeli and American Jews protested his appearance at a New Jersey synagogue, Knesset member Simcha Rothman of the Religious Zionism Party told JNS exclusively that a protest expected at the June 4 “Celebrate Israel Parade” in New York City would do a disservice to the protesters’ cause and to the larger Jewish Diaspora community.
Those who rallied against the Israeli government “breached many, many red lines. During their protests, they took the army into it. They took families that lost their dear ones in terror acts and in battle. I think they passed all the red lines that could be imagined,” he said.
“When people come to the parade—coalition and opposition Knesset members—I don’t think that’s a time to make our enemies happy,” added Rothman.
Those who protest events like the Israel parade generally affiliate with anti-Israel causes, such as the anti-Israel BDS movement, according to Rothman. He issued a lengthy statement on June 1 condemning those who planned to protest the parade for using diaspora Jews as a “political chip.” Instead, he called the annual celebration a symbol of unity that should remain above controversy.
Rothman doesn’t take issue with those protesting the governing coalition, of which he is a part, he told JNS. He has taken particular heat for his role as chairman of the Knesset constitution committee, which oversees judicial reform and of which Rothman is the main architect.
Some claimed on Twitter that he was protested while sitting on a New York park bench, but Rothman downplayed the event, saying just one person came to talk to him. On May 28, police had to evacuate him following fierce protests during a speech at Tel Aviv University.
“There is a way to protest. I think that people have lost their moral compass though,” he said. “The Israel Day Parade is not about the Israeli government. You want to demonstrate near the Knesset? You want to demonstrate outside my house? It’s sometimes problematic, but it’s also OK.”
Protesters have every right to speak their minds, he continued, but they are trying to shut down free speech when they disrupt panel discussions, as they did at the university last weekend.
“Trying to create a problem at the Israel Day Parade—an event that is uniting for all Jews and Zionists—that’s crossing a red line, and I don’t think that should be respected. Coalition and opposition together support the important connection with American Jewry,” Rothman said. “People who want to disrupt it cannot then call themselves leaders.”
‘Talking is always the answer’
Ofir Akunis, Israeli innovation, science and technology minister, canceled a scheduled appearance at an event at the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles on Tuesday amid an anti-government protest there. He “didn’t want to bring a bad feeling or bad vibes to anything associated with him and the State of Israel,” he stated.
Still, Rothman says it is inaccurate, as some are claiming, that judicial reform is causing a growing chasm between Israel and American Jewry.
“I don’t believe that,” he told JNS. “I think those are the same people that tried to create a chasm between units in the military because of their political hatred of the Netanyahu government. And they tried to create a chasm on the streets in Israel, and to incite violence and hatred, because they don’t like the government.”
Sixteen coalition ministers and lawmakers—not including those representing the opposition—are expected to march in Sunday’s parade in New York. That includes a record 10 ministers. Rothman told JNS there was no coordinated government effort to send extra representatives this year.
The parade, along with the conferences and community events in the days before and after, should be a time for unity and open discussion, according to Rothman.
“I’m willing to come everywhere I am invited. I never boycott anything, including organizations I believe are dangerous or harmful,” he said. “I think that talking is always the answer. You don’t have to agree.”
Rothman told JNS that he has met those heavily involved in the anti-government protests in Israel.
When JNS asked if he would march beside a member of the opposition at Sunday’s parade, Rothman replied: “Of course.”