‘Democracy is under threat’: Demonstrators demand change in Israel

Protesters advocating for democracy in Israel gathered at Washington Square Park to condemn prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed overhaul of the country’s court system on April 2.


Jason Alpert-Wisnia

The protestors gathered in Washington Square Park on Sunday. (Jason Alpert-Wisnia for WSN)

Bruna Horvath, Deputy News Editor

Nearly 100 people gathered at Washington Square Park on Sunday, April 2, to protest the judicial reforms proposed by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government in January. Netanhayu recently agreed to pause the reforms, which could make it easier for him to stay in power in the face of corruption charges against him, after months of protests in Israel and around the world.

The reforms, which will be voted on during the next session of Israel’s parliament, would allow the parliament to pass laws even if they were deemed illegal by the country’s Supreme Court. They would also give Netanyahu more power in appointing judges. Protests gained new fervor last Sunday, when Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, after he raised concerns over public backlash.

Shany Granot-Lubaton, one of the organizers of the protest at Washington Square, is a member of UnXeptable — a grassroots movement aiming to advocate for Israeli democracy. She said that the protests in New York City have been recurring over the last three months, and that she thinks it is important for the U.S. government and the Jewish community in the United States to get involved in the movement.

“The United States is a very strong ally of Israel — we are calling for our best friend in the world to step up and help us stand against this government, and not to stand behind what they’re doing,”  Granot-Lubaton said. “Being pro-Israel means to stand with the Israeli people and not with this extreme government and its very, very dangerous actions.”

At the protest, many attendees held up signs, with some reading “Dictatorship Ahead” and “NETANYAHU TAKE YOUR BANANA REPUBLIC AND SHOVE IT.” A group of people dressed in robes inspired by “The Handmaid’s Tale” were spotted in the crowd while other protesters gave speeches.

Peter Beinart, an editor-at-large at Jewish Currents magazine who has also contributed to The New York Times and CNN, spoke at the protest about Israel’s occupation of Palestine in a speech to the protesters. The speech was ill-received by many in the crowd, some of whom booed him and called for him to step off the stage.

“The movement has really been mostly ignoring the question of Palestinians under occupation,” Beinart said. “What I said is controversial, and some people might disagree with it, and some people might think it’s divisive. But if I’m going to give a speech, I have to say what I believe.”

Granot-Lubaton said that the conflict between Israel and Palestine does not go ignored at the group’s rallies.

“We’re fighting for the ability to have this conversation in Israel, to even talk about occupation, to even ask questions about it,” Granot-Lubaton said, in response to Beinart’s speech. “In almost every speech at our rallies, the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is being talked about, it’s not like somebody is ignoring this issue and trying to put it away. It’s not like that.”

Contact Bruna Horvath at [email protected]