The Israeli embassy knows how to put on a party. And ever since the official Independence Day event moved to the National Building Museum, the celebration has ballooned in size and scope. Guests are a mix of dignitaries, machers, politicos and Jewish communal leaders for an evening that feels somehow both very DC and very Jewish—you are just as likely to run into Amy Klobuchar as you are a camp friend you haven’t seen in 20 years.
This year’s gala was held this past Tuesday, and the program included remarks from Vice President Kamala Harris and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog. Montana Tucker kicked off the evening as the emcee—if you don’t know who she is, neither did many in attendance, judging from the murmuring around me. Luckily a GenZer took pity on me and explained that Tucker is a social media influencer with more than 9 million followers on TikTok and 3 million on Instagram. Tucker, whose maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors, recently documented a trip to Auschwitz with her family in a series of popular videos.
In her speech, Vice President Harris reminisced about collecting money to plant trees in Israel with Jewish National Fund blue boxes as a young girl. One of her biggest applause lines came when she mentioned her husband Doug Emhoff and how being “the first Jewish spouse of a president or vice president…has led to the first mezuzah on the front door of the vice president’s residence, the first menorah lit in the residence and the first Passover seder hosted at the residence.”
Her most notable line came a little later: “Under President Joe Biden and our administration, America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies which, as the ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and—I’ll add—an independent judiciary.”
That was met with loud applause. Not applauding? Simcha Rothman, the chair of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Rothman is the architect behind the proposed judicial reforms in Israel. When Harris was speaking, Rothman—closely guarded by his security detail—was off to the side, talking and taking photos with admirers.
Rothman’s attendance was notable since he was fresh off his Friday night brouhaha (for those who missed it, a video of him grabbing a megaphone from the hands of a heckling protester went viral). His presence was also noteworthy since there was some confusion about whether he was invited or not. This led the Israeli Embassy to say in a statement: “The Foreign Affairs Ministry informed us that Knesset member Rothman would be in the city and requested to be invited, and we were instructed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry to invite him. It was not our initiative to invite him. We became aware of it last minute. We cannot be expected to boycott an elected Israel official at an official event marking Israel’s Independence Day.”
Most people at the gala didn’t seem to clock Rothman, although one woman reportedly told him, “We won’t let you ruin our lives here, too. We told you not to come, right? So why did you come?” But he won’t be under the radar when he returns home. Hundreds of pro- and anti-judicial reform protesters plan to greet him at Ben-Gurion airport on his arrival.