Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a televised address on Wednesday evening, spoke out against the violent protests that roiled the country throughout the day, in some cases leading to clashes with police.
“Freedom of protest is not a license to drag the country into anarchy and chaos. A sovereign state cannot tolerate anarchy,” Netanyahu said.
“I know that there are many citizens who love their country and who passionately support the legal reform. And I know that there are also many other citizens, who also love their country and who oppose the reform with equal fervor.
“But in a democracy, there are clear rules on how to conduct the debate. There are red lines that must not be crossed,” Netanyahu said. “And it doesn’t matter how profound the debate, how stormy, how much it shakes the soul—the clear red line is a complete prohibition on violence and anarchy.
“We will not tolerate a situation where a person does whatever seems good in his eyes. We cannot accept violence. We cannot accept the blocking of roads. We cannot accept threats against public figures and their family members. Something that is happening at this very moment,” added the prime minister.
He compared the current crisis to that of 2005 when the Israeli government decided to leave the Gaza Strip, uprooting 8,000 Jews from their homes. Netanyahu said that while emotions ran just as high back then, with a segment of the public believing it spelled the end of the state, the protesters of the time, and the public figures, including himself, acted responsibly.
“That struggle did not cross red lines. We didn’t see then what we see today,” Netanyahu said. “The protesters did not strike police. They did not call for civil riots. They did not call for refusing to serve [in the IDF]. They did not send their money out of the state, nor did they defame Israel around the world.”
Demonstrators on Wednesday blocked highways nationwide in what protest organizers dubbed a “Day of National Disruption.”
“We will disrupt public order in the face of a government that is trying to disrupt the democratic order,” the organizers said in a statement. “Tens of thousands will go out to activities across the country to stop the regime coup, which has no support among the people.”
Police struggled to clear the roads, sometimes employing water cannons and stun grenades. Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai said following a situational meeting with his senior command staff: “The events today are difficult and saddening. The Israel Police considers the right to protest a cornerstone of a democratic country. But at the same time, we will not allow violations of public order and we will not allow damage to property and symbols of government.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Knesset member Benny Gantz of the National Unity Party called on Netanyahu to start talks: “Close the Knesset plenum now and don’t open it until we calm emotions. Stop everything and we’ll drive from here to the President’s Residence.”
In response, Netanyahu announced: “My door is open, come now.”
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said on Wednesday that society faced “a deep and serious internal crisis that threatens us all. It threatens Israel’s internal resilience and solidarity. It is dangerous, very dangerous.”