Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman was caught on video forcibly taking a megaphone away from protesters in New York City on Friday evening as they demonstrated against the government's judicial overhaul plans and policies.
Rothman, who is currently in New York ahead of the Celebrate Israel Parade on June 4, was returning from a meeting with the Jewish Agency on Friday evening when a group of protesters from the UnXeptable movement and Brothers in Arms joined him, walking behind him and his security guards on the route back to his hotel.
Shani Granot-Lubaton, the organizer of the New York protests, stated ahead of the incident: "In Manhattan, there is still democracy here, and therefore we can tell MK Rotman face-to-face what we think, and no police officer will stop us from exercising our basic freedom of expression."
The protest group followed Rothman and his security guards, speaking into a megaphone as they went.
The MK, who is the driving force behind the government's judicial overhaul legislation, appeared to lose his temper with the group, turning around suddenly and forcing the megaphone out of the protester's hands.
He then continued walking, still holding the megaphone, as his security guards rushed to catch up with him.
In a second video clip, a protester can be seen running up to Rothman in an attempt to take back the megaphone. However, before he could approach the MK, he was thrown to the ground by a security guard, pulling a second protester down with him as he fell.
"He's a violent man! A violent man," the person recording the video can be heard shouting in Hebrew as Rothman and his security guards continued walking. "I thought you were just violent with the legislation? Thief!"
After continuing to walk for around 30 seconds, Rothman then returned the megaphone to the protesters without saying anything to them.
According to a statement from the anti-government protest groups, the protester that was assaulted is a lawyer and graduate student at Columbia University and intends on filing assault charges against Rothman.
"Even Rothman's violence will not break our resolve and the historic protest will only gain momentum," the protester in question said. "We stand here in solidarity and support with our families and friends in Israel who are steadfastly defending Israeli democracy."
Simcha Rothman's response to the protest
Rothman responded to the incident the next day on Facebook, writing:
From the events in New York on Friday night:
- A small group of violent protesters attacked me and my wife as we woke late at night in New York.
- They blocked our path, stepped on my wife Hannah's foot and cursed [at us], wishing us death.
- Our security guards called the police, we told them where we were, and we continued walking, ignoring the protesters.
- At some point, the demonstrators realized we were not moved by them, at which point they put a megaphone up to our years (an attack) and shouted.
- The security guards and I repeatedly told them to stop and to stay away, and they continued.
- After all the warnings, I took the megaphone that the demonstrator had pushed into my ear - without touching [the demonstrator], of course. After about half a block we reached a place that we could go inside and wait for the police.
- The police escorted me to the hotel, and the incident was over.
Tangential to these events but not at all tangential in their importance:
- During Shabbat, and also during my visit on Thursday, the Jewish community here welcomed me with great joy. With respect and appreciation. There is a lot of support and encouragement for promoting the judicial reform, but even those few who do not agree with it came and were respectful.
- The violent attackers came from Israel. In Israel, they represent a small and violent group; they do here, too.
- Demonstrating is allowed. It is forbidden to physically attack and harass Knesset members.
- The fact that Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz do not condemn the violent attacks on Knesset members, and even encourage them, indicates more than anything else that they have become an opposition to the state.
See you soon at the march to celebrate 75 years of Israeli independence here in New York.
Rothman's patience with protesters runs out
Last Sunday, Rothman was met with hundreds of protesters as he arrived at Tel Aviv University for a conference he was scheduled to speak at.
While he was inside the conference, demonstrators plastered his car with stickers representing various anti-government protest movements, with one attendee sharing a short video of the adorned car with the caption: "Cars of the thieving government."
However, protesters waited for him inside as well, and Rothman briefly turned his attention to them, accusing them of being "unable to hear viewpoints that are not their own."
"When your argument is weak, you raise your voice," he continued. "You don't have the ability to deal with things intellectually so you deal with it by bullying. You are limited. You don't have intellectual capacity so you shout."
Labor MK Naama Lazimi has appealed to the Knesset's Ethics Committee about Rothman's behavior toward the protester saying: "Using violence against demonstrators tarnishes the honor of the Knesset and harms the public's trust in MKs."