‘Don't come back’: Israelis protest as Netanyahu heads abroad

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Opponents of controversial judicial reforms sought by Israel's government demonstrated Wednesday at Ben Gurion airport ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's departure on an official trip to Germany.

“Dictator on the run” and “Don't come back”, read placards held up by demonstrators near the airport, where a convoy of cars bearing Israeli flags circulated between the terminals, making them difficult to access, an AFP correspondent reported.

The Israeli parliament, or Knesset, voted Tuesday to approve a bill in first reading that would, among other things, allow lawmakers to scrap Supreme Court rulings with a simple majority vote.

The government of Netanyahu, which includes ultra-Orthodox and extreme-right parties, introduced its package to overhaul the judiciary in January.

Netanyahu, who also has a planned trip to Britain, presents the overhaul as key to restoring balance between the branches of government in a system he believes gives judges too much power over elected officials.

But the move has sparked 10 consecutive weeks of nationwide demonstrations, with critics expressing concerns that the reform package threatens Israel's liberal democracy.

They have also charged that the proposed changes aim to protect the Israeli prime minster as he fights corruption charges.

At Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv on Wednesday, some demonstrators held aloft banners that read “Crime Minister”, in reference to Netanyahu's ongoing legal battle.

The convoy of cars that moved between the terminals included veterans of the Israeli armed forces.

Among them were veterans who took part in the 1976 operation in Uganda to free hostages of a Tel Aviv-Paris flight that had been hijacked and during which Netanyahu's brother Yoni was killed.

Israeli President Issac Herzog -- who, in his largely ceremonial role, has tried to broker dialogue -- last week called on the coalition to halt the legislation, dubbing it “a threat to the foundations of democracy”.

The German and British governments have come under pressure for hosting Netanyahu, with 1,000 writers, artists and academics urging the two countries to scrap the visits.

“In the face of Mr. Netanyahu's dangerous and destructive leadership, and in light of a vast democratic civilian resistance against the destruction of state institutions by undemocratic law-making, we are asking that Germany and Great Britain swiftly announce” the cancellation of Netanyahu's visits, they wrote.

Netanyahu's office said he would meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and that they would “discuss diplomatic and security issues, first and foremost the Iranian issue, as well as regional developments”.

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