Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged that American Jews who planned to rally against his judicial reform plan were aligned with Iran and the PLO. His statement prompted leaders of the UnXeptable movement to accuse him of declaring war on American Jewry.
"It's not enough that he is meeting with extremists who have harmed the Jewish community. He is putting the very lives of Israelis and the biggest Jewish communities in the world at risk," Shany Granot-Lubaton said in response.
'Netanyahu has declared war on Diaspora Jews'
She referred to Netanyahu’s expected meeting Monday in San Francisco with X owner Elon Musk, who has threatened to sue the Anti-Defamation League and refused to crackdown on antisemitism on his social network.
"Netanyahu has declared war on Diaspora Jews and is opening this round of fighting with a shocking and outrageous attack against American Jewry," Granot-Lubaton stated.
She spoke as Netanyahu flew to San Fransisco for his first trip to the United States since taking office in late December. He is expected to then fly to New York to address the high-level opening session of the 78th UN General Assembly.
US Jews plan to protest against his judicial reform plan both in California and New York, but it is the large rally outside the UN Friday morning timed to coincide with his UNGA speech that has Netanyahu worried.
He characterized such rallies in the US as “anti-Israeli” as he spoke to reporters on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport before boarding the plane together with his wife Sarah.
“There have been protests for and against Israel,” Netanyahu said as he explained that his speech on Friday will be the 12th he has delivered to the UNGA.
“This time we are seeing protests against Israel by people aligned with the PLO and Iran,” said Netanyahu, adding that “nothing surprises me.”
The quip about the PLO and Iran was not included in the English language version of his remarks which the Prime Minister’s Office put out. On Monday morning, Netanyahu backtracked on his comments in a PMO statement, comparing the protesters to BDS and PLO activists.
"Israeli citizens will protest with BDS and PLO activists as the prime minister gives a speech to the UN - this never happened before," the PMO statement read. One must hope that demonstrators will take a few minutes to also demonstrate against those denying the State of Israel's right to exist."
Smotrich: Protesters abroad are BDS activists
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich immediately backed Netanyahu’s statement, stating that once “It was clear that while there are arguments and protests at home, when a prime minister goes on a mission to represent Israel abroad, we all support him.”
“The protesters abroad are indeed Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists who harm Israel,” Smotrich said.
He noted that the support they received from Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid as well as from former Defense Minister and National Unity Party head Benny Gantz “proves that they too have crossed all the red lines and become an opposition force to the state,” Smotrich said, adding, “shame on you.”
Lapid stated in response, “There is no person who has destroyed our image in the world more than Netanyahu in recent months. Nothing helps Iranians more than the coup d'état of his government.
“His accusations against the patriots of the protest are another proof of a serious disruption in judgment and in reading reality,” Lapid said.
Gantz said that Netanyahu’s comments were “serious and worthy of all condemnation.”
“We are talking about patriots, lovers of the country. Even a thousand rousing speeches at the United Nations will not repair the tremendous damage that Netanyahu is causing to Israeli society through his conduct.
“It's time to stop the coup d'état and restore order to the government, instead of blaming the protesters,” Gantz said.
Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli stated, “Netanyahu has built his entire political career on incitement and declaring open season on opponents.
“He did it to [former Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin and he is doing it now to the [anti-judicial reform] protesters in Kaplan. Time to stop being shocked by the lies and poison this man sows and demonstrate with all our might to send him packing, as soon as possible,” Michaeli said.
Netanyahu has argued that his judicial reform agenda will strengthen Israeli democracy, but the plan has divided the country with its opponents both in Israel and abroad fearing that it would transform Israel into a dictatorship.
Before boarding the plan, Netanyahu also spoke globally about the protests, explaining that they were “those who are well organized and well-funded protests” that attempt to normalize the unacceptable, Netanyahu said.
This includes the decision by reservists not to continue to serve, he explained.
A situation has been created where “blocking roads seems normal… that refusal to serve seems normal,” he said. So when the protesters decide to tarnish Israel’s image abroad, “that also seems to them normal,” he said.