In New York City, Israeli President Isaac Herzog encounters protesters — and tough questions


(New York Jewish Week) — On New York’s Upper East Side, a crowd of a few dozen holding Israeli flags chanted “de-mo-cra-tia,” the Hebrew word for “democracy.” Some held signs playing on the 1982 song by Ehud Manor “I Have No Other Country” that has become a theme song of their movement. One sign read, “President Herzog, don’t sugarcoat our plight.”

The protesters had gathered on Thursday in advance of Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s appearance at a UJA-Federation event, as part of his New York visit marking the 75th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and concluding his three-day diplomatic trip to the United States. Earlier in the week, Herzog had given an address to Congress touting the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship, eliciting multiple standing ovations, and met with President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C.

The protesters have been setting up shop outside the public appearances of all Israeli government officials visiting the United States for the last six months, in a show of opposition against legislation that would sap the power of Israel’s Supreme Court.  Herzog — whose political party is not in the ruling coalition and who has said the legislation could instigate a “civil war” — has been trying to broker a compromise over the legislation.

On Thursday, even as the first pieces of the judiciary changes neared completion, Herzog expressed optimism about those talks during his conversation with CNN senior global affairs analyst Bianna Golodryga before an audience of Jewish leaders from across New York City. (The event was held at the Midtown headquarters of UJA-Federation. The group is a funder of 70 Faces Media.) Golodryga pressed him judicial reform, the relationship between the U.S. and Israel, aid to Ukraine and antisemitism.

“Right now there are efforts to try and find solutions and I hope that leaders would be responsible and attentive to the ability of finding amicable solutions and live consensus on this issue,” Herzog said on the judicial reform issue. “If one side wins, Israel will lose.”

On claims that Israel has not done enough to support Ukraine, Herzog said that an early detection alert system “like every Israeli has” is set to be deployed in Ukraine sometime next month to warn citizens of imminent attacks. “This is vital to their well-being and their protection,” he said.

Protesters gather outside of an event where Israeli President Isaac Herzog was scheduled to speak July 20, 2023. (Jackie Hajdenberg)

The live conversation followed meetings earlier in the day with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. People who attended said they appreciated Herzog’s message, even as they remain concerned about Israel’s future.

“What could he have said that would have satisfied this audience? I don’t know,” said Jamie Maxner, director of strategic partnerships and community engagement at Hannah Senesh Community Day School, who attended with others from Brooklyn.

“I did appreciate that from what he shared, that we need to be talking, we need to hear all of the perspectives,” Maxner added.