Demonstrations in Israel against the government’s judicial reform program turned violent on Wednesday, which protest leaders dubbed a “Day of National Disruption.”
Police used stun grenades to disperse protesters blocking the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv.
More than 20 people have been arrested, including a man in Haifa for attacking a police officer.
Protest leaders had 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.
The “Day of National Disruption” will culminate with a nighttime demonstration outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.
“Israel won’t be a dictatorship…and we are now moving on to direct action,” organizers said in a statement. “We will disrupt public order in the face of a government that is trying to disrupt the democratic order. Tens of thousands will go out to activities across the country to stop the regime coup, which has no support among the people,” the statement continued.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir held a situation assessment on Wednesday morning with top police leaders, instructing them to not allow “anarchists” to block major routes.
In response, opposition leader Yair 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.”
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.
During a demonstration last week, protesters harassed several Israeli coalition lawmakers outside their homes in a bid to block them from reaching the Knesset.
Protest organizers had declared last Monday a “National Day of Struggle” and held a large rally outside the parliament along with marches in several cities. In response, Netanyahu harshly criticized the opposition, saying it had “gone off the rails.”
Netanyahu subsequently reached out to the public, saying “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,” he 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.