Fifteen people were arrested on Wednesday night in Tel Aviv after protesters blocked Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway following the resignation of the city’s police commander. Dozens more were arrested in other protests around the country.
It took police several hours to clear the main north-south route through the city as hundreds of anti-government demonstrators caused massive traffic jams, also blocking Kaplan Street. They lit fires, waved Israeli flags and chanted “democracy.” Officers used water cannons to extinguish the blazes.
Tel Aviv District Police Commander Ami Eshed announced his resignation on Wednesday, citing political interference by members of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, who he claimed wanted the police to exercise a more forceful response to the ongoing anti-judicial reform demonstrations.
Two women were hurt during protests in Jerusalem, and four people were arrested after police declared the gathering illegal. Water cannons and mounted police were deployed to disperse the protesters. Four more protesters were arrested early on Thursday at Hasira Junction near Herzliya.
A man was arrested on Wednesday night after driving through a group of protesters on the Ayalon Highway. No injuries were reported.
Ten people were also arrested during a demonstration outside of the Tel Aviv police station.
“The responsibility for the chaos in the Ayalon lanes lies with the law enforcement system and the police who lost control in the face of the anarchists who block the Ayalon again and again and again,” tweeted Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich.
“There is no reason that justifies the selective enforcement that manifests itself in the use of large forces and arrests at right-wing, ultra-Orthodox, settler or Ethiopian demonstrations compared to the left-wing demonstrations that include lighting bonfires and blocking major roads without any response. This is not a democracy!
“And this is exactly why we are promoting the strengthening of rights and freedoms and first of all the right to equality, because this is the way to strengthen Israeli democracy.”
Nadav Galon, one of the leaders of the protest movement against Israel’s current government, said in an interview on Thursday morning with Radio 103FM that more protests were planned.
“You haven’t seen anything yet,” Galon said.
“I am confident that after yesterday, the more the government advances [its judicial reform program]—and I hope it will stop—but if it advances, you will see the same degrees of pressure and even more significant ones to stop the dictatorship. We are determined.”
MK Benny Gantz, chairman of the opposition National Unity Party, said on Thursday that Netanyahu would bear responsibility for any bloodshed during the protests.
“He sees that the violence is increasing—handguns are being drawn, attempts to trample protesters, tension between us that continues to grow—and he continues on this dangerous path that will bring us to a collision, and, God forbid, to civil war,” Gantz told a press conference.
“When people bleed in the streets, the responsibility will first and foremost be his.”
Gantz said National Unity’s negotiating team would resume judicial reform compromise talks if Netanyahu put a halt to a bill to end the Supreme Court’s use of the standard of “reasonableness” to cancel government decisions.
The Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee voted on Tuesday to advance the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary. It will head to the full Knesset as soon as Monday for the first of three readings necessary for it to become law.