About 70 Israelis living in Pittsburgh, along with other members of the Pittsburgh Jewish community, gathered on Sunday, March 12, on the corner of Forbes and Murray avenues to protest proposed changes to the Israeli judiciary by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his allies.
The demonstrators stood in front of the Carnegie Library in the afternoon chill for nearly an hour holding signs reading “Save Israel’s Democracy” and “Israel Must Stay a Democracy,” waving Israeli flags and chanting “What do we want? Democracy. When do we want it? Now.”
The gathering was the second in two weeks organized by Merav Amos, who relied primarily on WhatsApp to get the word out.
Thousands of others in Israel and around the world have protested Israel’s proposed judicial changes in recent weeks. This was the second organized demonstration in Pittsburgh.
The initial protest on March 5, which drew about 50 people, was comprised mainly of Israelis, Amos said. Before Sunday’s gathering, she told the Chronicle that she expected the March 12 event to draw non-Israelis as well.
“I’m very happy because we are supporting, inspiring and encouraging our friends, families and all the other humans living in Israel,” Amos said. “They are very frightened by what is happening there. It’s terrible.”
Amos said the concern is “with the government trying to change the law in Israel and to restrict the power of the Supreme Court, essentially turning the country into a dictatorship.”
As an Israeli expat, a woman and mother of two girls, Amos said she is worried about the proposed changes in Israel. She wore a red robe and white bonnet, similar to those in the “Handmaid’s Tale” television show, to protest the possible judicial reforms.
The changes — which would limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to review legislation and hand members of the coalition government more influence over judicial appointments — would give Netanyahu “unlimited power” while removing the checks and balances in place, Amos said.
She stressed that the demonstrations were “not political” and were organized solely to defend Israeli democracy.
“That’s the one goal,” Amos said.
Despite that nonpolitical goal, Amos said that when she tried to promote the March 5 event on social media, the demonstration was deemed political and controversial.
In advance of the March 12 demonstration, Amos was contacted by UnXeptable about aligning with the organization. UnXeptable, which appears to have formed about one month ago, bills itself on its website as a “grassroots movement launched by Israel expats in support of a democratic Israel.” It originated in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Amos said the Pittsburgh demonstration was one of more than 40 in cities across the globe under the UnXeptable banner. The Pittsburgh event was branded with the organization’s name in promotional material.
No speakers addressed the crowd.
Several people in attendance said they joined the demonstration because of the anxiety they felt regarding the situation in Israel.
“Israel is in distress,” rally attendee Richard Fox said. “It’s become more and more evident since Netanyahu has been reelected again. Now, with a solid majority, it’s almost impossible — forget about progressive legislation — it’s impossible to do anything called democratic with a small ‘d.’ This is just the most egregious action that they’re taking now with the Supreme Court and the reform. I love the word ‘reform’ because it’s anything but.”
Fox added that he feels it is important to show solidarity with progressive minds in Israel.
Another attendee, Roz Becker, said that she has close friends in Israel, and she considers what has been happening there a disaster.
“I wish Netanyahu was in jail where he belongs and that there could be good people running the show,” she said.
Hanan Perlman said he was encouraged by the demonstration but was discouraged by the machinations of international politics.
“It’s still comes down to only a few people in a room, and that’s really disappointing,” he said.
It was important for local Israelis to be present at the rally, Meir Aridor said, because “there’s a perception that if you speak out against what the Israeli government does, it’s against Israel or antisemitic. So, it’s good to show that it’s really not.”
A strong sense of solidarity was evident in the families and individuals that attended the demonstration. It was not, however, shared by all in the Pittsburgh Jewish community.
Passing the rally, a man with tzitzit hanging from his clothing asked his companion rhetorically, “So, the voters’ voice doesn’t matter?” She replied in agreement, “They should learn about democracy.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.