Israeli protesters on Thursday were intensifying their opposition to a contentious government plan 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 US defense secretary was visiting.
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Demonstrators, who have been out protesting for more than two months against the overhaul, planned 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 the dangers 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 planned 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.
Protesters planned to block highways leading to Israel’s main international airport ahead of Netanyahu’s departure to Rome for a state visit. Police, overseen by ultranationalist National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, have pledged to prevent the disturbances.
Israeli media reported the disruptions could force Netanyahu to change his travel plans to the airport.
The visit Thursday by US 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.
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.”
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