NEW YORK - Protesters heckled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shouting out “democracy” as he arrived at his hotel in Manhattan while it was still dark on Tuesday morning, ahead of his meetings later in the day with German Chancellor Olaf Schulz as well as the president of Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelensky, of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
That will be followed by his highly anticipated meeting with US President Joe Biden on Wednesday.
The trip to New York, during which he will address the United Nations during the high-level portion of the 78th General Assembly, is his most diplomatically significant one since taking office at the end of December.
The event itself draws heads of state and foreign ministers from many of the UN’s 193 member states and allows for high-level diplomatic conversations to take place on a wide range of global topics, including climate change, the war in Ukraine, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, the Israeli Palestinian conflict and the burgeoning US deal with Saudi Arabia.
Among the dignitaries to address the UN this week is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Netanyahu sandwiched between diplomatic and political concerns
The trip comes at a moment when Netanyahu is sandwiched between diplomatic and political concerns.
His coalition partners have demanded that he veer rightward on issues relating to the Palestinians and his own party is pressing him to pursue a judicial reform plan, which opponents fear will transform Israel into a dictatorship.
The United States would like him to pursue judicial reform through consensus while preserving the strength of the Supreme Court and to offer concessions to the Palestinians to bolster its bid for a trilateral Saudi deal. Such an agreement with Riyadh would also include a normalization deal with Israel.
During a live-streamed conversation with controversial billionaire Elon Musk, who is both the CEO of Telsa and X, Netanyahu on Monday portrayed his judicial reform as a pro-democratic initiative, explaining that he himself had tried to curtail the more problematic aspects of the plan.
He did so ahead of his conversation with Biden, who has yet to invite him to the White House, in part over fears that the judicial overhaul plan would harm Israeli democracy.
White House: Biden, Netanyahu to discuss Democracy on Wednesday
The White House stressed that democracy would be one of the topics under discussion on Wednesday.
Biden and Netanyahu will “discuss a range of bilateral and regional issues focused on the shared democratic values between the United States and Israel,” White House spokesman woman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Friday.
They will also talk about “a vision for a more stable and prosperous and integrated region, as well as compare notes on effectively countering and deterring Iran.”
She said nothing about a White House invitation and the absence of one has been a break with a long-standing tradition by which an Israeli Prime Minister is invited to Washington soon after his new government is sworn in.
Netanyahu had hoped that he would meet Biden in Washington on this trip, rather than in New York.
Biden, however, is hosting Zelensky at the Oval Office on Thursday, rather than on the sidelines of the UN.