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Protesters target coalition MKs, block roads on ‘Day of Paralysis’ in Israel

Dozens arrested for disturbing the peace as police clear freeway running through Tel Aviv • Authorities worried about possible clashes during an anti-reform march in Bnei Brak.

Israelis protest against the planned judicial overhaul outside the home of head of the Shas Party Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem, March 23, 2023. Photo by Flash90
Israelis protest against the planned judicial overhaul outside the home of head of the Shas Party Aryeh Deri in Jerusalem, March 23, 2023. Photo by Flash90

Israel again suffered major disruptions across the country on Thursday as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in opposition to the government’s judicial reform push.

With more than 150 demonstrations scheduled, the “Day of Paralysis” began in the morning with a protest at the Airport City business park adjacent to the eastern entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport.

The protesters were blocking the roads ahead of a conference featuring the participation of Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and Economy Minister Nir Barkat. The protesters broke into the conference complex, shouting, “Shame.”

As Dichter was leaving the conference, a female protester was filmed striking him on the head with an Israeli flag, an action that was immediately denounced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I strongly condemn the attack on Minister Avi Dichter by a left-wing activist and demand that opposition leaders immediately stop the anarchy, violence and incitement against elected officials,” said the premier.

“I demand that the police and the State Attorney’s Office take immediate and firm action against anyone who lays a hand on elected officials—before it’s too late,” he added.

Other members of Netanyahu’s coalition weighed in to condemn the attack. There was no immediate response from opposition leader Yair Lapid.

A reporter from conservative Israeli news station Channel 14 was harassed by protesters at the Airport City complex, and was unable to finish her live report.

Demonstrators were also planning to again block Netanyahu from departing for a diplomatic trip after unsuccessful attempts to prevent the premier from flying to Rome and Berlin over the past two weeks. Netanyahu is scheduled to depart for London on Thursday evening to meet with U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

In Jerusalem, around 200 reservists demonstrated outside of the home of Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri. Dozens of haredi Jews held a counter-demonstration, dancing and singing. Another demonstration took place outside of the home of Education Minister Yoav Kisch, with an air force reservist being arrested.

Also in Jerusalem, protesters hung large Israeli flag and Declaration of Independence banners on the Old City walls.

In Tel Aviv, demonstrators blocked Kaplan Street, a major thoroughfare in the central section of the city.

Police deployed water cannons in the afternoon to disperse demonstrators who had blocked the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv for more than two hours. Forty-two persons were arrested for disturbing the peace as police cleared for traffic the north-south freeway running through the city.

Earlier in the day, water cannons were used in Haifa.

In the southern coastal city of Ashdod, hundreds of navy veterans blocked the southern entrance to the port. They burned tires, sending up plumes of thick black smoke. The protesters were heard chanting “we will paralyze the country until Bibi surrenders.” They eventually departed, leaving fire and rescue teams the job of putting out the fires and clearing the road for traffic.

Israelis block the entrance to Ashdod Port during a protest against the planned judicial overhaul, March 23, 2023. Photo by Flash90

There were more arrests, violence and roads blocked in different parts of the country as the mass disruptions continued.

Dozens were arrested for public disorder.

Protest leader Shikma Bressler was arrested during a demonstration outside of Rafael Advanced Defense Systems in Haifa. She was briefly detained at the police station in Kiryat Haim and released. Bressler was reportedly arrested for encouraging protesters to block the road, and her release was conditioned upon her not returning to the demonstration site for the next five days.

Protesters from Tel Aviv were expected to march into Bnei Brak, the largest haredi city in Israel, at 7 p.m. Police were deployed to the city in the afternoon amid fears of clashes between secular and religious Israelis. Several streets in Bnei Brak were expected to be closed ahead of the march.

According to the Hebrew-language haredi news site Kikar HaShabbat, National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz has dissociated himself from the Bnei Brak march.

“We will not protest against an entire sector; we won’t harm the haredi community and we won’t be party to such things,” said Gantz.

Netanyahu on Thursday instructed Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs to contact the heads of ultra-Orthodox political parties and community leaders to urge them to prevent the public from going to “areas of friction or be dragged into provocations.”

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