Citizens opposed to the government’s controversial judicial reform specifically congregated around the Ben Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv today.
By Erin Viner
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the nation’s streets of Israeli cities for the ninth straight week against a plan by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul the the country’s court system.
Declaring a nationwide ‘Day of Resistance,’ thousands of flag-waving demonstrators attempted to obstruct roadways to deliberately obstruct this evening’s flight by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Rome for official talks with his Italian counterpart Giorgia Meloni.
Scores of drivers honking the horns of their vehicles caused a near standstill of traffic in the area.
Condemning the activity, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir warned that there would be zero-tolerance against anyone seeking to disrupt the country’s main motorways.
“My policy is to prevent the blocking of traffic and main roads, and I’m dealing with this,” stated the controversial Cabinet member, who has come under increasing criticism for ordering police to crack down on the weekly protests.
Despite a peaceful start, footage released by police later showed protesters breaking down barriers in Tel Aviv and igniting fires as they blocked roads last weekend. Police sprayed water cannons at the crowds. The intensity of the protests has heightened since 1 March scuffles broke out in Tel Aviv during a nationwide “Day of Disruption,” to which police responded with the firing of stun grenades.
The Tel Aviv rallies also inadvertently cause a delay by visiting-United States Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. In light of anticipated public disarray, the top American Pentagon official decided to postpone his arrival and then to shorten his trip to Israel altogether. He held talks with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant earlier this afternoon, as well as Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, who ultimately reached the airport via helicopter, will reportedly be met with additional demonstrations in the Italian capital. Saying “we already have some fascists in Italy,” a message posted on social media called for protestors to gather at the city’s Piazza Santi Apostoli to brand the visiting Israeli leader as a “persona non grata.”
Calling Netanyahu’s trip abroad into question, Opposition leader Yair Lapid said “the protests are of the utmost importance,” and “an opportunity to instill our constitution, in which the Declaration of Independence will be the very first provision. Should the judicial reform pass, there will be no more elections in Israel.” He also appealed to protesters to “refrain from violence and respect the law.”
Elsewhere in the coastal city, demonstrators marched down a main boulevard while chanting anti-reform and anti-Netanyahu slogans, including “the time has come to overthrow the despot.” They also obstructed a major intersection, forcing police to diverted traffic to alternate routes.
Highway 4 outside the central city of Ra’anana was also blocked as hundreds waved Israeli flags along the route.
In Haifa, boats, kayaks and other small vessels obstructed entry into the Mediterranean port.
Port of Haifa as part of the protest to prevent trading vessels from making their way in or out of Israel’s busiest entrepôt.
IDF reservists, who have increasingly expressed dissent with the judicial overhaul, gathered outside the Jerusalem headquarters of the Kohelet Policy Forum, which has been attributed with forming the proposal. Five protesters, including several retired senior IDF commanders, were detained by police – causing another demonstration outside the nearby station in solidarity.
Yesterday, thousands of Israeli women marked International Women’s Day by forming human chains on the Tel Aviv Promenade, waving placards reading, “harming women’s rights, not on our shift.”
“We feel that every step of this reform is going to hurt women and take women’s rights back,” protestor Adi Agasi-Shafir told the Ynet news service, adding, “We are going to be deprived of all the rights and achievements that we managed to get so far, it’s really dangerous and we’re not willing to accept that.”