Biden Shifts Spotlight from Israel at UN Address; Protests Held Against Netanyahu - The Jewish Voice
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Biden Shifts Spotlight from Israel at UN Address; Protests Held Against Netanyahu

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Edited by: Fern Sidman

In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday, President Joe Biden shifted the spotlight away from Israel and the broader Middle East, directing international attention towards global foreign aid initiatives and rallying support for Ukraine in the face of Russia’s invasion, as was reported by The Algemeiner. While his address did include a brief mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Biden’s primary emphasis lay elsewhere.

On the first day of speeches at the UN’s annual gathering of world leaders in New York, President Biden chose to highlight the Eurasian trade corridor, a groundbreaking initiative forged during the G20 summit earlier in the month, according the report.  This corridor, connecting India to Europe through the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel, was lauded as a project with the potential to ignite opportunities and investment spanning two continents.

The President remarked,  “The groundbreaking effort that we announced at the G20 to connect India to Europe — through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Israel — will spur opportunities and investment across two continents.” He added that, “This is part of our effort to build a more sustainable, integrated Middle East. It demonstrates how Israel’s greater normalization and economic connection with its neighbors is delivering positive and practical impacts, even as we continue to work tirelessly to support a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians — two states for two peoples.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky listens as President Joe Biden addresses the 78th United Nations General Assembly in New York, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

Despite ongoing negotiations between the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia aimed at normalizing Israeli-Saudi relations, President Biden refrained from making direct references to these talks, as was noted in the report on The State Department confirmed their continuation, refuting a Saudi media report suggesting that they had stalled due to a lack of compromise regarding the Palestinian issue.

In addressing the ongoing concerns related to Iran’s nuclear program and its destabilizing activities in the region, President Biden underscored the U.S. commitment to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He stated, “We remain steadfast in our commitment that Iran must never acquire a nuclear weapon.” The report said that while he didn’t delve into specifics, the message reiterated the U.S.’s intent to address this pressing issue through diplomatic means.

However, the core of President Biden’s speech revolved around U.S. foreign aid and cooperation programs across the globe, with a significant portion dedicated to America’s unwavering support for Ukraine. The President articulated his vision for the U.S.’s role in global affairs, emphasizing the need for responsible management of competition between nations to prevent conflicts.

The Algemeiner report indicated that regarding China, Biden asserted, “When it comes to China, I want to be clear and consistent. We seek to responsibly manage the competition between our countries so it does not tip into conflict. I’ve said we are for de-risking, not decoupling, with China. We will push back on aggression and intimidation to defend the rules of the road, from freedom of navigation, to overflight, to leveling the economic playing field, so that it helps safeguard security and prosperity for decades. But we also stand ready to work together with China on issues where progress hinges on our common efforts.”

Following his address to the UN General Assembly, President Biden held a meeting with UN Secretary-General António Guterres. The report said that his agenda for the day included meetings with leaders from central Asian countries and hosting a diplomatic reception. On the horizon, he was scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, potentially signaling a renewed focus on Middle East matters in the coming days.

In related matters, World Israel News reported that anti-judicial reform protesters held multiple demonstrations directed against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he arrived in California on Monday, swarming the airport where he landed, his hotel, and gathering outside the Tesla factory where he met with billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk.

Protesters held multiple demonstrations directed against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York and elsewhere. The protests were primarily organized by UnExeptable, an umbrella group for Israeli expats opposed to the ongoing judicial reform legislation. Credit: Daniel Edelson and UnXeptable

The protests were primarily organized by UnExeptable, an umbrella group for Israeli expats opposed to the ongoing judicial reform legislation, as was reported by WIN.

“UnXeptable, together with the Israeli-American and Jewish communities of the Bay Area, are ready to show Netanyahu that he is not welcome here as long as he strives to turn Israel into a dictatorship and ruin the unique US-Israel alliance,” the group said in a statement ahead of the Israeli leader’s visit, according to the World Israel News report.

Activists from the organization broadcast messages on skyscrapers in downtown San Francisco reading “Save our Start-Up Nation.”

They also projected “Welcome to Alcatraz Bibi” and “Netanyahu is a dictator on the run” onto the historic Alcatraz Island prison, located in San Francisco’s bay. WIN also reported that some one hundred demonstrators gathered at San Jose Airport in California’s Silicon Valley, waving Israeli flags and holding signs criticizing the premier.

Others protested in front of the hotel where Netanyahu was staying for the duration of his visit to the Bay Area, sounding horns and chanting. The WIN report indicated that on Monday evening, there was an additional protest near the Tesla factory in Fremont, where Netanyahu participated in a live-streamed discussion with Musk.

Subsequent to his trip to California, Netanyahu flew to New York City where he will be addressing the annual United Nations General Assembly and conducting meetings with world leaders, including a discussion with President Biden that is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Netanyahus were met in New York by Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan, as was reported by Israel National News.

On Tuesday, however, for the first time since the Russian invasion, Netanyahu met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, as was reported by Israel National News.

Seconds after shaking hands with the Prime Minister, Zelenskyy rushed to give Mossad head David Barnea a warm hug, something that sparked worldwide attention and speculation that the two know each other, the INN report added.

At the start of the meeting between the two leaders, Zelenskyy said, “I expect a lot from Israel, but there are no problems in our relations.”

When asked if he was satisfied with Israel’s policy vis-à-vis Ukraine, the Ukrainian President replied, “We will sit down now and talk about relations and important things and see what happens next.”

INN reported that at the conclusion of the meeting, which lasted about half an hour, the teams left the room and the two leaders remained to speak face to face.

The Prime Minister’s Office said following the meeting, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met today during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. The meeting was friendly.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear that Israel will continue to help Ukraine with humanitarian issues,” the statement added, according to the INN report.

Later on Tuesday, PM Netanyahu was also expected to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Paraguay President Santiago Peña.

INN also reported that on Monday night, Israeli Minister of Economy and Industry Nir Barkat of the Likud party and former mayor of Jerusalem was given the honor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) to ring the iconic bell that marks the closing of trading on the world’s largest stock exchange.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. Photo Credit: Avi Ohayon / Israel Government Press Office

Dozens of blue and white Israeli flags were hung in the main NYSE hall and those present cheered for Barkat, as was reported by INN.  Lynn Martin, President of the Stock Exchange stood next to him.

Barkat said that it was a very emotional moment. “I am proud to stand here as a representative of the State of Israel in the most important and largest stock exchange in the world and to close trade. As I said when meeting with the NYSE heads, Israel is a strategic focus for investors, thanks to our distinct advantage in the field of technology, where the economic future of the world lies.”

“As a former investor, I say to all investors in America – investing in Israel is the best investment that anyone can do. Those who invest in Israel will benefit immensely,” he added, as was indicated in the INN report.

The New York Stock Exchange is the largest stock exchange in the world by total company value, and the second-largest in terms of the number of companies traded on it, after the Nasdaq Stock Market.

As of 2022, 2,400 companies, with a total value of approximately 30 trillion dollars, are traded on the NYSE. Twenty-eight of the 30 companies that comprise the Dow Jones Index (the largest public companies in the US), are traded on the New York Stock Exchange.  About half of the trading volume is conducted online. Nearly 100 Israeli companies are traded on the NYSE, the INN report added.

Also on Tuesday, Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, protested the speech delivered by Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the UN General Assembly by waving a picture of Mahsa Amini, the young Iranian who died last year while in custody of the Iranian morality police for failing to properly cover her head, INN reported.

Amini’s death ignited a wave of anti-government protests in Iran.

The Ambassador and the rest of the Israeli delegation were removed from the hall following the protest.

INN reported that Erdan later said, “While the UN rolls out the red carpet for the Butcher of Tehran, President Raisi, Iranians in New York are here to show the true face of the Ayatollah regime. The leaders in Iran only seek to oppress, starve, and murder their own people, while exporting terror and racing toward nuclear weapons.”

“The world must wake up and listen to the voices of innocent Iranians! The Ayatollah regime must be held accountable for their crimes and pay the price! The people of Israel stand with the people of Iran,” he added.

New York City’s bustling Times Square was the backdrop for yet more anti-Netanyahu demonstrations as hundreds of protesters, predominantly Israelis, gathered to voice their opposition to his visit to the United States, as was reported by the Times of Israel.

The protesters, brandishing Israeli flags adorned with the slogan “Free in our land,” a line taken from the national anthem, made their presence felt through impassioned chants. The TOI report said that their rallying cries of “Democracy or rebellion” and “shame” reverberated to the rhythm of a snare drum.

The anti-judicial reform demonstrators chanted, “If there won’t be equality, we’ll take down the government, you came down on the wrong generation.”

Critics of the legislative package argue that it poses a grave threat to Israel’s democracy, civil rights, and national security, in addition to its economic and international standing, the TOI report said. Conversely, supporters contend that it is necessary to rein in an activist judiciary and restore power to elected officials.

Among the protesters was Lior Hadary, a member of the Brothers in Arms veterans group, who asserted that the rallies in New York aimed to send a powerful message to world leaders, namely that they should stand firmly in support of democratic rights in Israel, as was indicated in the TOI report.  Hadary likened the struggle against Netanyahu, often referred to by his nickname, “Bibi,” to global battles for democracy, citing Ukraine’s struggle against Putin and the fight against Donald Trump’s policies in the United States.

“I believe this is one frontier in the same battle, the battle of democracy against populism, against dictatorship,” Hadary stated, according to the TOI report. He emphasized that his fight was no longer on foreign battlefields, having completed his service in an elite IDF combat unit, but now within the realm of peaceful protest.

The protesters in New York have taken to confronting coalition lawmakers during their visits to the region, mirroring the tactics employed by the protest movement in Israel, the TOI report said. Government officials in Israel often face vocal opposition at public events, with visiting ministers frequently forced to address concerns about the judicial overhaul, even on foreign soil.

Nir Ben-Tal, a protester representing the Pink Front activist group, highlighted the impact of these demonstrations on Israeli officials, noting that they were feeling the pressure. The TOI report said that he emphasized the importance of persistent efforts in the hope that cracks would eventually appear in their stance.

Organized by the expatriate activist group UnXeptable, the Israeli demonstrators in New York have also reached out to non-Israeli Jews in the United States, according to the TOI report.  Rabbi Josh Weinberg, the Union for Reform Judaism’s vice president for Israel and reform Zionism, noted the growing involvement of American Jews in these protests. He stated that congregations across North America had engaged with the issue of Israel more than ever before, emphasizing that the intention was not to protest Israel but to stand in solidarity with Israeli movements advocating for democracy, as was noted in the TOI report.

The protests in New York were strategically planned, with events scheduled throughout the week. These events began with a rally at Netanyahu’s hotel as he arrived in the city early on Tuesday. Later, a group of demonstrators marched outside the hotel, accompanied by a truck bearing a billboard that accused Netanyahu of “destroying democracy.” Further protests were slated to coincide with Netanyahu’s meeting with President Biden and his speech at the United Nations. Additional activist events were being kept under wraps, with organizers teasing “surprises throughout the city.”

The Israeli Anti-Occupation Bloc and the dovish US rabbinic human rights group T’ruah also planned to hold demonstrations outside the UN and Netanyahu’s hotel.

In the lead-up to his visit, Netanyahu ignited controversy by accusing protesters of “joining forces with the PLO and Iran,” drawing harsh criticism from his opponents. The TOI report stated that although a subsequent statement from the Prime Minister’s Office clarified that he meant protesters would rally alongside pro-PLO and pro-BDS activists, without mentioning Iran, the tensions surrounding his visit remained palpable.


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