Mass Israel protests against judiciary overhaul block Netanyahu from crossing Tel Aviv

Mass Israel protests against judiciary overhaul block Netanyahu from crossing Tel Aviv
Protesters took to the street en mass on Thursday to rail against the proposed judicial reforms of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's far-right government.
3 min read
09 March, 2023
Israeli police have used heavy-handed tactics to break up the protests [Getty]

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was airlifted to the country's main airport on Thursday after a mass protest against his planned judicial overhaul prevented him from driving there. 

Demonstrators blocked several roads throughout Tel Aviv to express their outrage against government plans to remove checks and balances on the judiciary, which critics argue will undercut and weaken "democratic institutions" in the country. 

Israeli police responded with heavy-handed tactics. Clips on social media showed protesters being choked and wrestled to the ground, and water cannons used to clear protesters from a main highway. 

"It's a day of resistance. We announced it last week and everyone who came with a car into central Tel Aviv should have known," said one protester, according to The Times of Israel. 

Netanyahu reportedly flew by helicopter across the city, a move that further angered government opponents who see the lavish leader as out of touch with the electorate. 

Elsewhere, a small flotilla of paddleboards and kayaks tried to close off a maritime shipping lane near the northern city of Haifa. Protesters also barricaded the Jerusalem offices of a conservative think tank that has championed the judicial changes. 

Live Story

Thursday's disruptions also impacted the plans of US Secretary of State Lloyd Austin, whose schedule was rearranged to keep his engagements close to the airport. 

Back in the US, lawmakers are demanding President Joe Biden take a tougher stance against Netanyahu's proposed overhaul. 

Representatives Rosa DeLauro, Jan Schakowsky, and Jim McGovern are passing a letter through Congress which expresses deep concerns over the legal reforms they say will embolden the expansion of West Bank settlements and undercut the prospect of peace negotiations, reported Haaretz. 

The letter from DeLauro, Schakowsky, and McGovern said: "We urge you to use all diplomatic tools available to prevent Israel's far-right government from further damaging the nation's democratic institutions and undermining the potential for two states for two peoples."  

Live Story

They argue the proposed changes would "jeopardize Israeli democracy, which in turn would undermine the very foundation of the US-Israel relationship". 

"With the Knesset on the cusp of stripping the judiciary's check over the far-right government, we urge you to make clear that the US will firmly oppose any moves towards annexation that the Israeli government may pursue as a result," they said. 

The letter is one of many circulating among American lawmakers in response to Netanyahu's far-right administration.

Senator Peter Welch from Vermont handed a damning letter to President Biden during a Democratic Party event urging him to be "more assertive" in dealing with Netanyahu. 

Welch's letter read: "We have a choice: stand by passively as a withered two-state approach recedes into oblivion or do our best to reenergise it with more assertive efforts to persuade the Netanyahu government to stop further expansion of settlements in the West Bank, to halt all de facto annexations, and to reaffirm Israel’s commitment to a viable two-state solution." 

Representative Jerry Nadler, the senior Jewish Democratic caucus member, is separately spearheading a letter among Jewish lawmakers that voices concerns about Israel's legal reforms. 

Netanyahu’s ultra-religious and ultra-nationalist allies have defended the reforms as a measure needed to rein in the powers of an unelected judiciary. 

Critics argue judges will be appointed based on their loyalty to the government or prime minister - and say that Netanyahu, who faces trial on corruption charges, has a conflict of interest in the legislation.