More than 70 protesters were arrested on Tuesday as opponents of the right-wing government’s judicial overhaul blocked roads across Israel in a well-orchestrated day of disruption.
The protests at 100 locations came after the Knesset – Israel’s parliament – on Monday night approved the first reading of a Bill scrapping the “reasonableness” standard that allows the supreme court to overrule government decisions.
More than 15,000 demonstrators descended on Ben Gurion airport, the main focus of Tuesday’s disruption. Some 1,000 police prevented all but a handful of the protesters from entering the airport terminal and flights were not disrupted. The protest took place after Israel’s attorney general ruled that the airport is a public space open to all citizens to express themselves and demonstrate.
Large protests also took place close to the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem and outside the US embassy compound in Tel Aviv, as well as on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan street, a main focus of the demonstrations which have been taking place every week since Binyamin Netanyahu formed his right wing and religious coalition six months ago.
The police used force, baton charges and water cannons to keep the roads open but denied protesters’ claims that they had adopted a more aggressive policy under orders from hardline national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
While the protests were taking place, the coalition pushed ahead with the legislative process to overhaul the judicial system. The Knesset’s constitution, law and justice committee began its deliberation on a final version of the Bill to curb the oversight power of courts over decisions of the executive branch with the aim of completing passage of the Bill before the end of the month, when the Knesset’s summer session ends.
“Yesterday, the Knesset spoke very, very clearly. I will say clearly, I am not convinced that the Bill needs to be changed in its essence,” said committee chair Simha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionist party.
On Monday President Yitzhak Herzog called on the sides to resume talks in order to resolve “the fundamental issues that are tearing us apart”. However, Benny Gantz, head of the opposition National Unity party, said there could be no return to dialogue while Mr Netanyahu continued to promote his legislative agenda.
Reservists in elite military units have resumed discussions on the possibility of refusing call up orders, prompting defence minister Yoav Gallant on Tuesday night to call publicly for the soldiers to keep politics out of the army, calling refusal a “reward for our enemy”.
Yoav Limor, defence analyst for the right-wing daily Yisrael Hayom, wrote that the country was tearing itself apart.
“A country that has always known how to come together in the face of any threat or challenge, how to set aside the things that divide us and to rally around in the things we share, is working to the detriment of every single one of its interests. Israel itself is threatening its own existence.”