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Over 3,500 academics, writers, artists urge Biden and UN chief to snub Netanyahu

A group of over 3,500 Israeli academics, writers, artists, former diplomats and other public figures on Friday called on US President Joe Biden and UN General Secretary Antonio Guterres not to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the upcoming General Assembly summit in New York, over his government’s controversial policies.

Signatories wrote “from the heart of the struggle for democracy,” warning that Netanyahu was promoting a “deceptive facade” in international media interviews on the benefits of his judicial overhaul proposals.

“Inviting Mr. Netanyahu to speak at the United Nations General Assembly will grant symbolic power and political leverage to a cynical populist who strives to establish an autocratic regime when institutions of democracy are under attack worldwide,” the letter asserted.

Netanyahu has already apparently lost out on a much sought-after meeting with Biden at the White House. A senior Israeli official told The Times of Israel on Friday that Netanyahu will only meet Biden on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York later this month.

Netanyahu has yet to meet face-to-face with Biden since he took office more than eight months ago. The White House has repeatedly expressed disapproval of many statements and policies emanating from members of Netanyahu’s hardline government, as well as with the judicial overhaul plan that has roiled the country.

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Netanyahu is currently slated to address the General Assembly on September 21, but his speech may be moved to September 22, a Friday.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 27, 2018 in New York City. (John Moore/Getty Images/AFP)

“Giving this supreme artist of doublespeak and fakery a respectable venue will allow Mr. Netanyahu to rehabilitate his damaged international status. This is precisely what he so desperately seeks, using the honorable institution of the UN as the stage of his verbal trickery,” signatories wrote.

The writers accused Netanyahu of “legitimizing racist, ultranationalist, religious fundamentalist and homophobic political parties that until now operated at the margins of Israel’s political discourse — and this solely for the purpose of his political survival.”

“From the outset of establishing his extreme right-wing government, Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition has worked tirelessly to undermine the gatekeepers of Israel’s democracy, weaken the Supreme Court, neutralize the media, and destroy the few checks and balances safeguarding the health of our nation,” they added.

“The coalition led by Mr. Netanyahu has done this by presenting no less than 225 anti-democratic bills, now in various stages of legislation. Mr. Netanyahu incites citizens against each other, threatens the country’s security and economy, and is ignoring the historical conflict that is tearing Israel apart – the forceful domination of the Palestinian people,” the letter read.

It said the prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial was the main reason for his support of the overhaul, while asserting that for his far-right partners, it was the goal of “turning Israel into an apartheid state led by religious fundamentalists.”

“Is this the vision of a country that the United Nations seeks to endorse by inviting Mr. Netanyahu?”

Among the signatories of the letter were author David Grossman, who has spoken at anti-overhaul rallies, Hagai Levine, head of the White Coats doctors protest group, and Oded Goldreich, a mathematician and 2022 Israel Prize winner.