Protests grip Israel after Netanyahu government snubs alternative judicial plan

Israeli protesters blocked traffic during a demonstration against the government's planned judicial reforms during a "Day of Disruption" in Jerusalem on Thursday. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI
1 of 5 | Israeli protesters blocked traffic during a demonstration against the government's planned judicial reforms during a "Day of Disruption" in Jerusalem on Thursday. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo

March 16 (UPI) -- Thousands of demonstrators blocked streets and major highways throughout Israel on Thursday during a third day of protests over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the country's judicial system.

Despite the widespread unrest, the conservative administration appeared determined to move forward with legislation that would upend Israel's legal system by handing Netanyahu's government full control over the country's judiciary, with the sovereignty of the Supreme Court also at stake.


The proposal has touched off deep political discord in Israel in recent weeks, with public turmoil reaching a fever pitch one day after Netanyahu and members of his right-wing coalition snubbed a proposal by President Isaac Herzog that was widely supported as a viable alternative to the controversial shakeup.

Herzog and protest leaders have continued to warn that political chaos gripping the nation had potential to ignite a civil war unless a compromise could be reached soon.


"As the president warned yesterday, we are one step away from civil war," protest organizers said in a statement Wednesday. "The one stirring up passions is Benjamin Netanyahu -- he is responsible."

Hundreds of thousands of protesters have swarmed the country all week as debate on Netanyahu's proposal continues in the national assembly.

The latest protests began before sunrise Thursday as demonstrators in Jerusalem painted a bright red line on the road leading to the Supreme Court -- which was intended to symbolize the people's solidarity with the nation's court system.

About 150 large demonstrations were expected to take place in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and at Ben-Gurion International Airport. Protesters have also announced plans to rally outside the homes of lawmakers, including Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana.

Nearly a dozen people have been arrested on vandalism and disorderly conduct charges as protests raged across Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with massive crowds blocking the Ayalon highway.

Israeli police used tear gas to fend off protesters outside the British Embassy.

Throngs of Israeli reserve soldiers and navy veterans shut down the port in Haifa and choked off the city's main thoroughfare.

A mob scene also blocked the main coastal highway near Beit Yanai, while slow-moving tractors backed up traffic on Route 4 for several miles.


Crowds assembled on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv near several international embassies, before marching into the heart of the city along Kaplan Street and stuffing the Hashalom Interchange, where police were forced to block traffic in both directions.

In Rehovot, masses of people lined up sandbags outside the magistrate's court in preparation for "attacks from criminals trying to carry out a coup," demonstrators said.

Protesters also took to the streets outside the U.S. Consulate in Tel Aviv, while angry crowds surrounded the prime minister's office in Jerusalem.

Students planned to hold protests at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University and Bar-Ilan University.

And another march and rally were planned for Thursday night at Habima Square.

"This is the moment of truth for Israelis to go out and save Israeli democracy," organizers said Wednesday.

"We are in a state of national emergency. The Israeli government is pushing the economy with all its might into a recession and ignoring the warnings that keep coming. ... Together we will stop the madness and fight for democracy, our country and our home."

Elsewhere, protest leaders said Israeli authorities had tried to run over a demonstrator at Bet Yehoshua Junction.

A day earlier, protest organizers described the demonstrations as the only way to "stop the regime coup."


Under Netanyahu's plan, the Supreme Court would lose its ability to overturn laws passed by the Israeli parliament and allow for high court decisions to be overturned by a simple majority in the national assembly.

The plan would also allow politicians to leverage more authority to appoint judges as the legislation provides for Netanyahu's coalition to receive five of the high court's nine members, with only a simple majority needed to appoint judges to every court in Israel.

The administration has also called for government lawyers to be classified as political appointees, which would strip the attorney general's oversight authority.

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