Israeli police arrest dozens of protesters on ‘day of disruption’

Thousands of protesters waving Israeli flags turn out against Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul plan.

Members of Israeli security forces scuffle with demonstrators during a 'day of resistance' to protest the Israeli government's judicial overhaul bill, in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2023. - The proposals have divided the nation and triggered one of the biggest protest movements in Israel's history since being unveiled in January by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Members of Israeli security forces scuffle with demonstrators during a 'day of disruption' to protest against the Israeli government's judicial overhaul bill, in Tel Aviv [Jack Guez/AFP]
Correction18 Jul 2023
A previous version of this article referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel's president. That was incorrect. Netanyahu is Israel's prime minister.

Israeli police said they have arrested 45 people, including eight from Tel Aviv train stations, during another day of massive protests against the government’s controversial judicial reforms making their way through parliament.

Israeli protesters took to the streets on Tuesday as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed forward his controversial plan with legislators preparing to ratify one of the contested reform’s bills before parliament goes on summer recess.

During the demonstration – the latest in a months-long wave of protests that has shaken the Israeli capital, Tel Aviv – thousands waving Israeli flags blocked highways and briefly mobbed the stock exchange on a “day of disruption” with hopes of scuppering the legislation slated for final voting next week.

About 1,000 people, including many army reservists, blocked an army headquarters in the city. Similar scenes of blockade and protest were taking place in cities across the country. Police used water cannon in Tel Aviv and northern Israel to disperse protesters.

The country’s national railroad shut down for a time, though it was unclear if the protests were behind the rail stoppage. The Israeli railroad said there had been a computer malfunction.

The reform drive – cast by opponents as curbing court independence and by Netanyahu as balancing branches of government – has set off a six-month constitutional crisis and contributed to United States’s concerns about Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition.

More specifically, the bill – which was approved in its first reading – would reduce the “reasonability” clause through which the judiciary can strike down government decisions.

It would also give the government a greater say in the appointment of judges. But before becoming law, it needs to be approved in two more votes, expected by the end of the month.

‘No to dictatorship’

“We are here to say to Israel’s government: The more you press, the harder we resist,” Jonathan Eran Kali, a 62-year-old retired tech worker, told the Reuters news agency at a demonstration outside the Habima Theatre in Tel Aviv.

“We are saying no to dictatorship,” added Kali, who was wearing a hydration pack as a precaution against scorching weather.

Dozens of protesters entered the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, tossing fake banknotes as symbols of corruption. Police reported a half-dozen highway closures by demonstrators and at least 17 arrests.

Medics said a woman was hit by a car and injured.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said the government was proceeding with reforms in “measured steps while continuing to call for broad consensus”. He deemed the protesters “a vocal few, inflated by the media”.

In a delaying tactic, the parliamentary opposition filed 27,000 objections to a coalition bill that would limit the Supreme Court’s ability to void decisions or appointments made by the government, ministers and elected officials by stripping the judges of the power to deem such decisions “unreasonable”.

Still, the coalition looked set to bring the bill to the plenum on Sunday for final votes before the July 30 recess.

Members of Israeli security forces disperse demonstrators staging a 'day of resistance' to protest the government's judicial overhaul bill, in Tel Aviv on July 18, 2023. - The proposals have divided the nation and triggered one of the biggest protest movements in Israel's history since being unveiled in January by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP)
The proposals have divided the nation and triggered one of the biggest protest movements in Israel’s history since being unveiled in January by the hard-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [Jack Guez/AFP]

As the Israeli streets seethed, the country’s president, Isaac Herzog, told US President Joe Biden in Washington on Tuesday that he is committed to finding a solution amid the heated mood in his country and US concerns about the planned judicial shake-up.

“Israeli democracy is sound, strong and resilient,” Herzog said in the presence of Biden at the White House. He said that society was going through a painful time and difficult moments. “We should always seek to find an amicable consensus,” Herzog said.

Herzog has been trying for months to reach a compromise between the government and opponents of reform – so far without success.

Although Herzog does not hold the same political power as Netanyahu, the US has long been Israel’s closest ally and Washington’s backing is important for Israeli leaders.

Biden, before the closed-door talks with Herzog, said he had a longstanding, deep-rooted commitment to Israel.

On the eve of Herzog’s visit, the White House announced that Netanyahu would make his first official visit to Washington during the Biden administration later this year.

US and Israeli commentators have said that Washington is increasingly concerned about Netanyahu’s policies and was rethinking its past relations with the country. Israeli commentators expressed similar concerns.

“The fact that Netanyahu has not been to the White House since taking office and now Herzog has been invited is a clear sign of this,” said Israeli political scientist Eldad Shavit.

The reform has caused an unprecedented rift within Israeli society with the protest movement showing little sign of abating.

Israel’s national labour union and its medical association have joined a long list of groups speaking out against the bill.

Military reservists, fighter pilots and business leaders have all urged the government to halt the plan.

Arnon Bar-David, the head of the country’s national labour union, the Histadrut, threatened a possible general strike that could paralyse the country’s economy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies