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Anti-judicial reform protesters defy police, block major roads in Tel Aviv

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir reiterated his call for police to not allow “anarchists” block highways.

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against the government's judicial reform plan on March 4, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari /Flash90.
Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against the government's judicial reform plan on March 4, 2023. Photo by Gili Yaari /Flash90.

Israelis demonstrating in Tel Aviv on Saturday night against the government’s judicial reform plan defied police orders and attempted to block major roads and highways, leading to limited clashes.

Police used water cannons to disperse protesters who broke through barriers to the Ayalon Highway, and detained at least four people.

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir held a situational assessment in Tel Aviv, and again instructed police to not allow “anarchists” block major routes.

“I came here to exercise my policy. I have no intention of apologizing, certainly not to the anarchists who want to set the state of Tel Aviv on fire,” he said.

In response, opposition leader Yair Lapid said that Ben-Gvir was inciting to violence.

“The dangerous TikTok clown is continuing to incite and encourage violence,” tweeted Lapid, adding: “There has never been a government minister who openly sought clashes between the police and citizens.”

Last week, Lapid called on police to ignore the “dangerous” and “irresponsible” directive by Ben-Gvir to maintain public order, accusing the minister of trying “to heat things up even further.”

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s judicial reform plans, March 4, 2023. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.

Anti-judicial reform demonstrations turned violent on Wednesday, which protest leaders dubbed a “Day of National Disruption.” They called for marches throughout the country and strikes at businesses and schools. They also laid out plans to block roads and make “house calls” to the private residences of coalition lawmakers.

Police used stun grenades to disperse protesters blocking the Ayalon Highway, and more than 20 people were arrested, including a man in Haifa for attacking a police officer.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear that his government “will not accept violence against police officers, the blocking of highways and gross violations of state laws.

“The right to demonstrate is not a right to anarchy,” he said.

“I fully back National Security Minister Ben-Gvir, the Israel Police inspector-general and the officers of the Israel Police, who are acting against lawbreakers who are disrupting Israeli citizens’ daily lives,” added Netanyahu.

The prime minister has harshly criticized the opposition, saying it had “gone off the rails,” and reached out to the public, as “this is the time to talk.”

“I hear the voices of the people. I hear those who are praising [the judicial reforms], and I also hear those who are concerned. When there are disagreements among us, it is possible and necessary to talk in order to reach agreements or at least reduce the disagreements among us,” Netanyahu said.

Lapid has rejected numerous coalition overtures to negotiate without preconditions, instead demanding that the legislative process be frozen for at least 60 days and that any talks be based on a plan presented by President Isaac Herzog, who holds a largely ceremonial position.

Protest leaders have announced this coming Thursday as the next “Day of National Disruption.”

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