(New York Jewish Week) — On his first trip to Israel as mayor, Eric Adams made all of the expected stops — meeting with the prime minister and president, visiting the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, sampling from the offerings of the country’s tech scene.
But he added another, less traditional agenda item: a meeting with two organizers of the ongoing mass protest movement against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul.
The 40-minute meeting, which took place Tuesday at the David Citadel Hotel in Jerusalem, made Adams one of the most influential officials in the United States to engage directly with the protest movement while on a visit to Israel.
Brooklyn Rep. Hakeem Jeffries and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate, did not meet with protest leaders on their own trips earlier this year.
Karine Nahon, one of the protest organizers who met with Adams, celebrated the meeting as a sign of her movement’s impact.
“The significance is, first of all, in the meeting itself — the fact that senior leaders are coming and are meeting with leaders of the protests,” Nahon, a professor who studies information and society at Israel’s Reichman University, told the New York Jewish Week. “I think that in the last eight months many of the things happening in Israel are stemming from the protests.”
The protest movement, which has brought hundreds of thousands of Israelis to the streets weekly since the beginning of the year, opposes the Israeli government’s ongoing effort to weaken the country’s Supreme Court. The first component of the legislation passed in July and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to resume pushing the plan forward in the fall.
Adams met with a range of religious and business leaders and said that the three-day trip is focused on fighting antisemitism, increasing public safety and deepening connections between New York City and Israel’s tech industry. He met with Israeli President Isaac Herzog, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion and Yisrael Gantz, an official from Israel’s West Bank settlements, among other dignitaries. He also visited the Western Wall — where a picture released by his office showed him wearing a bracelet that said “Hustle” while placing his hands on the wall’s stones — and laid a wreath at Yad Vashem.
Adams met with Netanyahu later on Tuesday and, in a press conference that day, declined to take a position on the judicial overhaul. That sets him apart from other Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly cautioned against the legislation in strong terms.
“It was great to meet, also, the leaders of Israel’s protest movement and just hear their thoughts because these are historical moments and I think we should all watch the history play out in all of our countries,” Adams said. “And I just want it to be here, not to interfere, but just to learn. And I’m aware that my trip comes at a pivotal moment for Israel, and I believe the people of Israel will make the determination on how they want to move forward.”
He also tweeted a picture from the meeting, writing, “Had an honest conversation with two leaders in Israel’s protest movement this morning about numerous issues at play here. I appreciate the opportunity to hear their diverse perspective.”
The meeting was organized by the UJA-Federation of New York, which helped facilitate the mayor’s visit to Israel. Along with Nahon and the mayor, the meeting was attended by tech investor and fellow protest organizer Gigi Levy-Weiss and UJA-Federation CEO Eric Goldstein.
UJA-Federation, which is a funder of 70 Faces Media, the New York Jewish Week’s parent company, referred all questions about the meeting to the mayor’s office. His office, in turn, referred to his comments at the press conference.
Hank Sheinkopf, a longtime New York City political consultant, called Adams the “greeter in chief” and said he wasn’t surprised by the mayor’s meeting with protest leaders. The meeting, Sheinkopf said, could be part of Adams’ efforts to prove his bona fides to the city’s progressive Jewish voters.
“Adams is trying to be, when it comes to Israel and it comes to Jews, all things to all people,” Sheinkopf said. “He’s got a lock on the more conservative and Orthodox, Hasidic groups. What he needs to do is get more of the liberals, and they’re in places like the Upper West Side and Park Slope, and he needs to get more of their votes in 2025. It makes him appear evenhanded.”
Nahon said Adams largely stuck to asking questions in the meeting and didn’t express his opinion on the judicial overhaul, though she felt he understood the protests’ message.
She and Levy-Weiss, she said, aimed to describe the overhaul and why they believe it will harm Israeli democracy by undermining the country’s checks and balances and separation of powers.
“The importance of preserving Israel as a Jewish and democratic state — that’s what this fight is about,” Nahon said, describing their message to Adams. “And we said clearly, you can’t be only a Jewish state, because then you essentially lose all your legitimacy, everything we’ve built here over the past 75 years. On the other hand, you can’t be only a democratic state — this combination of Jewish and democratic is what sustains us.”
The overhaul’s proponents believe the legislation will curb an overly activist court system and allow the government to better represent the country’s right-wing majority. The overhaul did not feature in a nearly-three minute video Netanyahu’s office posted to social media, which showed Adams and the prime minister’s staffs meeting in a conference room as well as the mayor tasting some products of Israel’s food tech startups.
“Throughout his visit, Mayor Adams has engaged in a range of activities and met with a variety of individuals that represent the diversity of Israel,” a spokesperson for the Israeli consulate in New York told the New York Jewish Week when asked about the meeting with protest organizers. “We respect his approach and the freedom of dialogue it represents.”
Nahon said she hopes the meeting leads Adams and other officials to reflect the voices of Israel’s citizens in their views and remarks about the country.
“It’s very important that everyone who loves Israel and is friends with Israel embraces the Israeli public,” she said. “I want to see them make statements of support for the Israeli public that’s fighting.”