(New York Jewish Week) — More than 200 American and Israeli Jews gathered on the Upper West Side on Wednesday to protest a private event featuring Moshe Koppel, the cofounder of the Kohelet Forum, the conservative think tank whose ideas undergird the judicial overhaul being advanced by Israel’s government.
As people walked into a building on 86th Street for an event hosted by Aish New York, an Orthodox outreach organization, protestors surrounded attendees and shouted “shame” in Hebrew. The event began late and the protest was audible inside.
The protest was the latest in a series organized by Israelis living in New York City who oppose the judicial overhaul legislation, which would sap the Israeli Supreme Court of much of its independence, and which has led to raucous and widespread street protests in Israel.
“Moshe Koppel is the person behind the judicial coup that’s going on in Israel these days,” said Shany Granot-Lubaton, a leader of the local protest movement. “They are trying to make Israel a dictatorship.”
Some of the protesters were dressed in red robes with their faces covered by white bonnets in the style of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a Margaret Atwood book and Hulu television series about a misogynist Christian dystopia. The costumes have become a popular mode of protest in Israel and have elicited comment from Atwood herself, who called one of the displays “astonishing.”
Granot-Lubaton, who also works at J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, she believes Koppel entered the building through a side door to avoid the protesters. Koppel and Aish CEO Rabbi Steven Burg did not respond to a request for comment.
In a video posted by News Israel 13 journalist Neria Kraus, Koppel can be seen attempting to speak over the protesters, whose cries could be heard inside the walls of the building.
A source who was in the audience for Koppel’s speech, and asked to remain anonymous because the event was supposed to be private, said Koppel was late because of the protests and discussed the judicial reform only during the final third of the speech, which lasted more than 90 minutes. He said Koppel said, as he has for at least a month, that he opposes pieces of the package of legislation currently advancing in Israel. Koppel predicted that a measure allowing Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, to override court decisions with a bare majority would not pass.
The audience member said Koppel spoke to a friendly audience and came off as “a very educated man who holds very strong views on this topic” but who was “very distracted” by the protests.
In a 2019 interview with Ami magazine, an Orthodox publication, Koppel described Kohelet as “the brains of the Israeli right wing,” and conservative politicians in Israel and the United States have thanked the think tank for its work. They include former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is one of the officials spearheading the overhaul.
But according to the audience member, Koppel acknowledged feeling conflicted about the legislation. At one point, when an audience member asked him about how he feels regarding the seismic changes happening in Israel, Koppel responded, “I don’t sleep at night.”
“Obviously he feels the weight on his shoulders,” the audience member said. “There’s a lot of pressure on him from many different angles.”
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Outside the building, Granot-Lubaton said that she felt the protests “had an impact.”
“We showed him that Israelis and Jewish Americans who love Israel are not giving up that easily on democracy,” Granot-Lubaton said. “It was a very important event. We’re going to continue to chase these people who are trying to fund and take down our democracy.”