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Anti-reform protesters block roads, port and vandalize property on day of ‘escalating resistance’

Demonstrations are taking place across Israel the day after the president’s judicial reform plan was dismissed as inadequate by the governing coalition.

Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial reform, outside the British diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv on March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.
Israelis protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial reform, outside the British diplomatic mission in Tel Aviv on March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90.

Israel braced on Thursday for another day of nationwide demonstrations against the government’s judicial reform push, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed as inadequate a compromise plan presented by President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday.

In an address to the nation, Herzog warned that the country was on the precipice of civil war, before pitching the “people’s plan” to resolve the dispute over the legal overhaul that has divided Israeli society.

Netanyahu, who departed on Wednesday for a brief diplomatic trip to Berlin to meet with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, argued that Herzog’s proposal did not adequately address what many view as a power imbalance between the legislature and Supreme Court.

“The issues presented by the president were not agreed upon by the coalition and key clauses in his outline only perpetuate the current situation and do not bring the necessary balance between the branches,” stated the premier. “This is the unfortunate truth.”

Full day of protests planned

Meanwhile, Israelis took to the streets again on Thursday for what protest organizers were calling a day of “escalating resistance to dictatorship.”

Israel Police said five arrests were made as a result of a predawn act of vandalism in Jerusalem outside the Supreme Court.

Also on Thursday morning, a group of Israeli Navy reservists blocked entry into the Port of Haifa. The protesters’ boats were draped with signs reading “The navy will not sail into a dictatorship.”

At the Tel Aviv University campus in the city’s Ramat Aviv neighborhood, students reportedly placed barbed wire fencing at the entrance to the school.

Israel Defense Forces reservists were also reportedly seen in front of Bnei Brak city hall setting up a mock military recruitment office, with the protesters quoted by Israeli media as saying they were there to recruit the haredi population.

Road closures were taking place on Thursday morning across the country with many events planned throughout the day, including gatherings outside of foreign diplomatic missions in Tel Aviv and a student march from the Givat Ram campus of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

A large demonstration is planned for Thursday evening at Habima Square in Tel Aviv. Earlier, police dispersed protesters in the coastal city who briefly blocked the Ayalon Highway.

Hundreds of protesters jumped over barricades to access the road before being removed.

Israelis protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, outside the British embassy in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023. Photo by Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90

Judicial reform moving forward

Despite Herzog’s proposed compromise and the continuing demonstrations, Netanyahu’s coalition remains determined to advance the reforms’ legislative process.

Netanyahu reiterated on Sunday that he was elected to pursue change, and accused the opposition of trying to overthrow his government.

“Only four months ago, we held elections. The government I head received a clear mandate from the citizens of Israel. The fact that for two whole months, our repeated calls for dialogue received no response from the opposition proves that what interests the opposition is not the judicial reforms, but the creation of anarchy and the overthrow of the elected government,” he said.

“It is impossible to be in favor of the success of the Israeli economy and to encourage the flight of funds from Israel. It is impossible to be in favor of the rule of law and to encourage violations of the law. It is impossible to be in favor of the security of the state and to encourage insubordination that would collapse the security of the state,” said the premier.

“There is no conditional Zionism,” he added.

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