Israel: Protests continue against justice system overhaul

Tel Aviv, Israel –

Weeks of anti-government protests in Israel turned violent for the first time on Wednesday as police fired stun grenades and water cannons at demonstrators who blocked a highway in Tel Aviv. The crackdown came shortly after Israel’s hardline security minister called for a tougher response for what he described as an “anarchist”.

The riots came as thousands across the country launched a “National Collapse Day” to protest the government’s plan to overhaul Israel’s judicial system. says it is intended to reduce the influence of unelected judges.

But critics, including influential business leaders and former military personnel, say Netanyahu is pushing the country toward authoritarian rule and that he will target judges on trial for corruption charges. states that there is a clear conflict of interest.

The government is rushing to change the law, and parliamentary committees are pushing bills that would undermine the Supreme Court.

The crisis has shocked all of Israel and has presented Netanyahu with serious challenges just two months after returning to power. A wave of Israeli and Palestinian violence in his occupied West Bank compounded his woes.

Opposing sides are digging and deepening one of Israel’s worst domestic crises. While Netanyahu and his government, which are made up of ultranationalists, did not go so far as to condemn the West Bank settler mob that set a Palestinian town on fire earlier this week, they have called the protesters anarchist. branded.

The law change has sparked unprecedented uproar, with weeks of mass protests, criticism from legal experts and pledges to disobey orders under what they say will turn into a dictatorship after the law change. Business leaders, the country’s burgeoning tech sector and leading economists, have warned of economic disruptions from judicial reforms. Israel’s international allies have expressed concern.

In the first scene of chaos since the protests began two months ago, police arrived on horseback in the seaside metropolitan center of Tel Aviv, hurling stun grenades and calling out “democracy” and “police.” Nation.” A video posted on social media showed a police officer holding down a protester with his knee on the man’s neck.

Police said demonstrators threw rocks and plastic bottles at police. Several protesters were arrested for disturbing the peace, and Israeli media said at least six protesters were injured. blocked a highway connecting the city and Jerusalem, halting rush hour traffic for about an hour. At Tel Aviv’s busy train station, protesters blocked doors to prevent trains from leaving.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gubir, an ultranationalist accused of politicizing the police, has vowed to take a hardline line. He called the demonstrators “anarchists” and called on police to prevent roadblocks.

Netanyahu said he fully supports Ben Gubir. “We will not tolerate violence against police, road blockages and blatant violations of the country’s laws. The right to protest is not the right to disorder,” he said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on police to show restraint.

“Protesters are patriots,” he tweeted. “They are fighting for the values ​​of freedom, justice and democracy. The role of the police is to enable them to speak out and fight for the country they love.”

Thousands of protesters have emerged at locations across the country waving Israeli flags. Parents marched with their children, tech workers quit their jobs to demonstrate, and doctors protested outside hospitals. The main rally was scheduled for later Wednesday outside the Knesset, or parliament, and near Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv protester Ariana Shapira said: “Everyone here is trying to keep Israel a democracy. If the current government gets its way, it will no longer be a democracy or a free country.” I am worried,” he said. “As a woman, as a mother, I am very scared for her family and friends,” she said.

The overhaul’s main architect, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, said on Tuesday before parliament adjourned for the Passover holiday on April 2, the coalition will put some of the judicial overhaul bills into law next month. Aiming to do

The Knesset is also scheduled to hold a preliminary vote on Wednesday on another proposal to prevent Netanyahu from being removed from office.

Netanyahu has been at the center of Israel’s years-long political crisis, with former allies turning against him and refusing to sit with him in government due to his corruption charges. The political turmoil that followed the second election culminated with Netanyahu’s return to power late last year and the addition of ultranationalist and ultra-orthodox parties as partners in the current far-right government. Did.

Using enormous political power, these allies have secured top portfolios in the Netanyahu administration. Among them was Ben-Gvir, who was arrested dozens of times before entering politics and was once convicted of inciting violence and supporting a terrorist group. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich is the leader of the West Bank Settlers and has been given power over parts of the territory.

They have pledged to take a tough stance against the Palestinians, who have escalated tensions in recent weeks. Smotrich has publicly called for a tougher response to the killing of two Israelis in the West Bank by Palestinian gunmen, saying Israel should “go mad” ahead of Sunday’s mob violence. He later urged restraint, but said Wednesday that the attacked Palestinian village of Hawala should be “destroyed.”

In addition to the protests, Netanyahu’s government, the most right-wing in Israel’s history, is beginning to show early cracks just two months after taking office.

The government said the law reform aims to correct an imbalance that has allowed the courts to over-power and interfere in the legislative process. They say the overhaul will streamline governance, and say Netanyahu’s return to power in parliament with a narrow majority in last year’s elections has given them the power to make changes.

Critics say the overhaul would overturn Israel’s system of checks and balances, give the prime minister and government unlimited power, and push the country toward authoritarianism.


Associated Press reporter Ami Bentov in Tel Aviv, Israel contributed to this report

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