Israelis were stepping up on Thursday their protest against the controversial government plan to overhaul the judiciary, blocking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s route to the airport ahead of an official trip to Italy.
On a nationwide “Day of Resistance,” dozens of demonstrations were being held in major cities and crossroads, paralysing traffic in several areas.
From the morning hours, convoys of protestors have been blocking the entrance to Ben Gurion Airport in order to disrupt Netanyahu’s departure for an official visit to Rome.
A live broadcast on N12 TV news showed long queues of cars at the entrance to the airport, with the traffic coming to a standstill. The police said in a statement that they have issued fines to cars intentionally blocking the traffic.
State-owned Kan TV news reported that Netanyahu and his wife Sara were forced to use a police helicopter to reach the airport because of the blocks set up by the protestors.
The protest forced Netanyahu to postpone his departure from 1 p.m. local time (1100 GMT) to 2:15 p.m. according to a statement issued by his office.
In Haifa, a protest flotilla blocked the entrance to the Port of Haifa. Two former Navy chief commanders were on board vessels that took part in the flotilla.
In Tel Aviv, thousands were marching and blocking the Azrieli Junction, a major crossroads, and parts of the adjacent Ayalon Highways, the country’s main highway system, were temporarily blocked.
By noon, at least 16 people were arrested in different rallies throughout the country, according to a police statement.
The demonstrations have rocked the country for two months as Netanyahu’s new religious-nationalist governing coalition presses on with its judiciary overhaul plans. Thousands of the country’s leading businesspersons, entrepreneurs, legal experts, and former military chiefs have joined the protests.
The government plans to put further limits on the Supreme Court and change the appointment of new judges.
According to Netanyahu, the overhaul is needed in order to curb the overly activist Supreme Court but critics fear that Netanyahu, who is facing an ongoing trial over corruption charges, wishes to gain excessive power over the legal system. ■