By Dedi Hayoun BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) – Israelis protesting judicial reforms sought by the hard-right government threatened to converge on the country’s main airport on Thursday to disrupt a trip abroad by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as a visit by the U.S. defense secretary. Police were out in force in and […]
Israeli protests target Netanyahu, visiting Pentagon chief at airport
By Dedi Hayoun
BEN GURION AIRPORT, Israel (Reuters) – Israelis protesting judicial reforms sought by the hard-right government threatened to converge on the country’s main airport on Thursday to disrupt a trip abroad by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as a visit by the U.S. defense secretary.
Police were out in force in and around Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, where Israeli media said Netanyahu and his retinue had come in the early morning in order to evade possible sit-down demonstrations on the highway from Jerusalem.
Netanyahu’s spokespeople did not immediately comment on the whereabouts of the prime minister, who was due to leave for a two-day visit to Rome in the afternoon, after a hastily organised welcome of Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin at the airport.
Israeli media published images of two of Netanyahu’s senior aides shopping in Duty Free.
Protest organisers had called for traffic disruptions to begin mid-morning as part of what they have dubbed “A Day of Resistance” against reforms that they fear would subordinate Israel’s Supreme Court to the executive and foster corruption.
Netanyahu – who is on trial on graft charges he denies – says his plan to curb the judiciary will restore the balance between the branches of government.
Israel’s far-right minister for police, Itamar Ben-Gvir, coordinated the response to the demonstrations from the airport.
“Nobody said don’t protest,” he told reporters. “But it’s not okay, it’s not right, it’s not proper to ruin the lives of 70,000 people.”
That figure appeared to refer to commuters stuck in traffic, as well as those travelling through Ben Gurion, whose daily volume is around 18,500 passengers.
In a message circulated over WhatsApp, protest organisers had urged travellers to arrive early at Ben Gurion: “We are trying to balance our desire to shake up the country and the necessity to enable people to reach their destinations.”
Austin, who is on a regional tour, had been due to arrive on Wednesday. But he postponed, and relocated meetings to a venue near Ben Gurion, given concerns that the demonstrations could make it difficult to reach the Defence Ministry in Tel Aviv.
Opinion polls have shown the judicial overhaul is unpopular with most Israelis, who would prefer a compromise be reached.
Two law professors, Yuval Elbashan and Daniel Friedman, this week circulated proposals for amended reforms. Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and two ministers gave the draft a preliminary welcome. But leaders of the opposition said they would not countenance it unless Netanyahu suspends ratification votes.
In Jerusalem, a group of protesters used sandbags and barbed wired to barricade the offices of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a think-tank that has advocated for the government reforms, Reuters video showed.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra and Nick Macfie)
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