Opponents of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul staged another “day of disruption” across Israel on Thursday amid rising political tensions in the country.
Demonstrators briefly blocked the Ayalon Highway, the primary thoroughfare in Tel Aviv, as well as roads around Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport. The latter was an attempt to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from boarding his flight to Italy for an official state visit.
Protests were also staged outside the homes of senior ministers, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is a main force behind the judicial overhaul plans.
“It is a civic duty to resist the dictatorship and this is the only way to return Israel to the path of democracy. This is a great battle for the independence of Israeli citizens against the tyranny that will destroy what we have built here for over 70 years. We call on the entire public to participate in protests,” said the protest organizers.
Israeli Police forces swiftly reopened Ayalon Highway and the roads around the airport without any major clashes with demonstrators.
Netanyahu met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at Ben-Gurion Airport prior to his scheduled flight to Rome. The prime minister stressed that his government was trying to reach an understanding about the controversial legal reforms. The premier also blamed the opposition for fueling unrest and chaos across Israeli society.
“We are trying to reach an understanding regarding the reform. Unfortunately, I see that, until now, all these efforts have been met with a blanket refusal by the opposition and there are attempts by the opposition to drag the country into anarchy. The issue is not the reform, their goal is to bring about a sixth election and we will do everything to prevent that,” Netanyahu said.
Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir stressed the importance of distinguishing democracy from anarchy.
“I am the last one to come out against the protest. Protesting is allowed. I protested for decades. Protest, scream – that’s democracy. Anarchy cannot be permitted – that is my command to the police officers,” said Ben Gvir.
A group of senior Israeli Air Force reservists recently warned IDF Chief Herzi Halevi that reservist pilots would stop flying if the government succeeded to pass the judicial overhaul. Many IDF soldiers and pilots fear the legal reforms would weaken Israel’s judicial system and thereby expose them to international legal probes for alleged war crimes by those who may no longer consider Israel’s courts as operating independently.
On Thursday, IAF head Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar suspended IDF Col. “G” for alleged misconduct, for leading the ongoing protests against the judicial reforms.
“He was suspended because he synchronized striking among the pilots,” Bar said. “When I asked him twice, he didn’t give me the full picture. His conduct was revealed to me from a forum of air force commanders. One of them revealed to me what G did not reveal when we sat face to face. This undermining of trust caused me to suspend him,” said Bar. “G took upon himself authorities of those serving in the Air Force which I didn’t give him. I did not authorize him to push them about when they show up or do not show up for duty.”
While Bar recognized the right of every individual pilot to protest, he denounced organized attempts of mass boycotts within the IAF that could weaken Israel’s crucial military capabilities.
The senior air force officer, G, has the right to appeal to IDF Chief Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi to overrule the suspension.
Halevi recently informed Netanyahu that growing reservist protests could undermine the IDF’s operational capabilities.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.