(JTA) — An Israeli government minister canceled a speech in Los Angeles in the face of a protest, in part over what the local Israeli consul described as “bad vibes.”
Ofir Akunis, Israel’s science and technology minister and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, was due to speak on Tuesday at an event at BioscienceLA, a Los Angeles-area center for life science innovation. He arrived in the country ahead of the Celebrate Israel Parade in New York City on Sunday, where he will march as part of a delegation of Israeli government officials.
An activist movement led by Israeli expatriates who oppose the Israeli government’s proposed weakening of the judiciary, called UnXeptable, has vowed to protest the parade delegation. A local chapter of that movement showed up at the event in L.A. on Tuesday and, like the anti-government street protesters in Israel, chanted “Shame” in Hebrew.
Akunis did not show up for the speech. After the audience waited two hours, Hillel Newman, the Israeli consul general in Los Angeles, announced that the minister would not be speaking.
“I have to apologize on behalf of the minister,” Newman said from the podium. “In the end he decided he’s not coming. He said that he felt that his presence here might cause more provocations of the people outside and the protesters, and he said he didn’t want to bring a bad feeling or bad vibes to anything associated with him and the state of Israel.”
Neither the consulate general nor BioscienceLA responded to requests for comment. Akunis’ office said in a statement that his “successful visit is going as planned.”
“If there is a space for nonviolent arguments about Israel’s internal affairs, it is only in Israel, and as we knew to expect provocations from leftist protesters, we chose not to have them in the international arena,” read the statement, according to Neria Kraus, a reporter for Israeli Channel 13.
UnXeptable has organized protests overseas in solidarity with the mass street protests that have taken place in Israel against the government’s proposed judicial overhaul. Akunis is not the first Israeli government official to cancel a speech to an American audience due to protests. Netanyahu backed out of speaking at a Jewish Federations conference of North American Jewish leaders last month in Tel Aviv because of protests, and the next day, far-right lawmaker Simcha Rothman was repeatedly shouted down at one of the conference panels.
In a statement following Akunis’ cancellation, UnXeptable said, “We’ve started.”
“Whoever tries to destroy Israeli democracy will not enjoy a quiet visit in the United States,” the statement said. “We will be everywhere that they are and we will prevent them from spreading lies.”