Middle East

Netanyahu: Israelis stage ‘day of resistance’ against Netanyahu plan

TEL AVIV: Israeli protesters on Thursday were intensifying their opposition to a contentious government proposal to overhaul the judiciary, with plans to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu‘s route to the airport ahead of an official trip overseas and as the United States defense secretary was visiting.
Demonstrators, who have been out protesting for more than two months against the overhaul, launched a “day of resistance to dictatorship” on Thursday. Parents and children demonstrated across the country ahead of school drop off and some protesters barricaded the offices of a conservative think tank helping to spearhead the judicial changes.
The uproar over Netanyahu‘s legal overhaul has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises. Beyond the protests, which have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis to the streets and recently became violent, opposition has surged from across society, with business leaders and legal officials speaking out against what they say will be the ruinous effects of the plan. The rift has not spared Israel’s military, which is seeing unprecedented opposition from within its own ranks.
Netanyahu, who took office in late December after a protracted political stalemate, and his allies say the measures aim to rein in a court that has overstepped its authority. Critics say the overhaul will upset the delicate system of checks and balances and slide Israel toward authoritarianism.
Critics also say Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, is driven by personal grievances and that he could find an escape route from the charges through the overhaul. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing, and says the legal changes have nothing to do with his trial.
Demonstrations were underway across the country as Netanyahu and his allies have pledged to press ahead with a series of bills that would strip the Supreme Court of its ability to review legislation and give coalition politicians control over judicial appointments. An attempt by Israel’s ceremonial president to defuse the crisis through an alternative legal reform has so far been unsuccessful.
Protesters were to send convoys of slow-driving cars to Israel’s main international airport to complicate Netanyahu’s journey there ahead of a state visit to Rome. Israeli media reported the disruptions could force Netanyahu to change his travel plans to the airport. Police, overseen by ultranationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have pledged to prevent the disturbances and said they had already made arrests as the protests were underway.
The visit Thursday by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was also being affected by the protests. An Israeli official said that Austin’s meetings had been moved to a factory near the airport due to the expected disruptions. The protest movement has been centered in central Tel Aviv, near the Defense Ministry. The Israeli official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.
Police were gathered in central Tel Aviv early Thursday in anticipation of the demonstrators. Billboards festooning the city’s main highway read “resistance to dictatorship is mandatory.”
On Thursday morning, military reservist protesters barricaded the Jerusalem offices of the Kohelet Forum, a conservative think tank that has helped craft the overhaul, with barbed wire and sandbags, and hung a banner outside reading “Kohelet is tearing Israel apart.”
Several dozen people, on kayaks, sailboats and stand up paddleboards, were gathered in the waters off the coast of the northern city of Haifa, in a bid to block that city’s shipping lane.
The protests have been largely peaceful, but last week police cracked down, lobbing stun grenades and scuffling with demonstrators in the center of the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv. Those protests ended with Netanyahu’s wife Sara being extracted from a ritzy Tel Aviv hair salon where demonstrators had gathered after catching wind of her presence.

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