The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they happened.
Ayalon Highway has reopened, after police finish clearing anti-government protesters from the thoroughfare running through Tel Aviv.
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit says Israel is in “a historic period that will be remembered for generations,” as he warns against the government’s radical plans to shake up the judiciary.
“You have something here that harms the most basic foundations of the government system, those in whose spirit the State of Israel was founded. I preferred not to be interviewed until I couldn’t take it anymore,” he tells Channel 13 news.
He warns that if the proposed changes pass into law, “Israel will cease being a democracy,” stressing the importance of an independent legal system.
“A collision is preferable to a bad compromise,” says Mandelblit.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says he’s forming a special team to look into the potential consequences for Israel from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, which will include the director-general of the Treasury and officials from the Bank of Israel, Securities Authority and Innovation Authority.
According to Smotrich, the team will reach out to Israeli tech firms and financial institutes in both Israel and US, vowing to come up with “an answer” for companies if required, echoing an earlier pledge by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“The State of Israel will stand alongside the local tech industry and help it get through the crisis,” Smotrich writes on Twitter.
Officers arrest three demonstrators during what police describe as a riot along Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway.
Police say they are working to remove the protesters from the road.
Video shows police have brought a water cannon to the scene.
Former US Federal Reserve chair Ben Bernanke warns of economic fallout from the government’s plans for upending the judiciary.
In comments to Channel 13 news, Bernanke says that as a small economy, Israel is dependent upon internal trade and investment “to grow and prosper.”
Bernanke, who last year won a Nobel Prize in economics, adds that the proposed changes will cause “tremendous damage to security of foreign investors, trading partners and Israeli entrepreneurs as a result of the sudden institutional changes that will increase uncertainty, create legal and political risks and endanger the rights of minorities.”
“To ensure that Israel’s extraordinary success continues, it must move slowly and build broad consensus regarding any significant change in the judicial system or in its system of government,” he says.
With the remarks, Bernanke joins an extended list of internationally renowned economists who have warned against the far-reaching changes to the judicial system.
Organizers of the anti-overhaul protests claim some 500,000 people took part in nationwide rallies this evening, including nearly 250,000 at the main demonstration in Tel Aviv.
A group of protesters in Tel Aviv have run onto the Ayalon Highway, in an effort to block traffic on the key transport artery in central Israel.
Police say they are working to clear the demonstrators.
21:33 מפגינים יורדים לאיילון צפון וזרקו לכביש שהיה ריק מתנועה אבוקה pic.twitter.com/xQ7NGOzqVG
— Bar Peleg (@bar_peleg) March 11, 2023
Protesters applaud Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed as he walks through the anti-government rally in the coastal city, after far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir sought to remove him from the post but was blocked by the attorney general.
עמי אשד מתקבל במחיאות כפיים רמות ובזעקות "גיבור ישראל" בהפגנה בקפלן pic.twitter.com/sHFWrqoba3
— יובל שדה Yuval Sade (@SadeYuval) March 11, 2023
Turnout at the main anti-overhaul protest in Tel Aviv is now estimated by Hebrew media outlets at over 200,000.
Elsewhere in the country, thousands rally near the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, as well as in the cities of Ra’anana and Ashdod.
Police say they have arrested a Netanya resident on suspicion of hurling a firecracker at demonstrators in the central coastal city.
The suspect, 22, is found with another firecracker upon his arrest, according to a police statement.
There are no reports of injuries.
Protest organizers declare that they will hold another day of mass demonstrations on Thursday under the banner “day of escalating resistance.”
They also say that on Wednesday, they will try to disrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned visit to Berlin, similar to their effort to interfere with his trip to Rome this weekend.
“This is one of the most critical weeks in the struggle to safeguard Israeli democracy from those trying to bring about its destruction. Every Israeli in whose heart is the Declaration of Independence must come out this Thursday with strength and courage to defend the State of Israel,” they say in a statement.
Major turnout is being reported at protests against the government’s efforts to overhaul the judicial system, with Channel 12 news estimating record turnout in Haifa and Beersheba.
According to the network, around 145,000 people are rallying in Tel Aviv, 50,000 in Haifa and 10,000 in Beersheba.
With anti-overhaul demonstrations now in their 10th week, Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai gives a brief address in which he says he “made a mistake” in approving the removal of the Tel Aviv district police commander from his post.
The ouster of Amichai Eshed was announced on Thursday evening by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has repeatedly criticized what he claims is overly soft policing of the demonstrations, including the blocking of major highways. Minutes after the announcement, Eshed oversaw the police response to a terror attack in Tel Aviv.
“I was wrong,” says Shabtai of his ouster of Eshed. “I made a mistake in the weighing [of the move], the timing and the path.”
Eshed’s removal — he was to be transferred to head police training — was immediately frozen by the attorney-general, amid concerns that it was carried out at Ben Gvir’s instigation, in a breach of the minister’s permitted behavior. Ben Gvir said earlier this evening that Shabtai told him two months ago that Eshed was not the right officer for the Tel Aviv job.
“I respect the attorney general’s decision to freeze the appointment,” says Shabtai, asserting that he and Eshed will “continue to work professionally” together.
He says Eshed’s ouster/transfer was supposed to be carried out a few weeks from now, after the high-tension month of Ramadan, as part of a wider police reshuffle. He does not specify whether he still intends to transfer Eshed as originally planned.
Amid calls, including from within the force, for him to resign over the Eshed fiasco, Shabtai vows to continue in his post.
In 37 years of service in uniform, he says, “I’ve never abandoned a front — and I don’t intend to do so now.”
“I am obligated to Israel’s values,” he says. “I promise you, the people of Israel, that I will protect your right to protest — as long as it is within the law.”
He adds: “And I won’t capitulate to any political pressure on the issue.”
Shabtai defends his force’s handling of the demonstrations, saying officers have been protecting “the freedom to protest in the State of Israel” and upholding public order.
“We don’t want to see blood on the streets,” he says, citing incidents when protesters were injured by police stun grenades and when an elderly woman was handcuffed.
“Even if there are doubts about specific incidents, we investigated them,” he says, adding that the lessons of those incidents are being applied in the field.
Soon after Shabtai speaks, Eshed is seen at tonight’s protest in Tel Aviv, where he is given a rousing reception.
Police say officers arrested two suspects for throwing eggs at anti-government protesters in Hadera.
The suspects, residents of Hadera in their 30s, were taken for questioning, according to a police statement.
Demonstrators are gathering in Tel Aviv to protest against the government’s judicial overhaul plans, with Hebrew media estimating a turnout of some 50,000.
Rallies are also being held in other cities across the country, including Haifa and Beersheba.
After trying to push out Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir claims he failed in his role and that his conduct was “not good.”
He also says he doesn’t know what Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai will say later this evening, and that Shabtai had told him that Eshed was a failed commander.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’s been in touch with senior Israeli tech figures following the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank in the United States.
Netanyahu, who is due to fly back this evening from Rome, says he’s keeping tabs on the matter and will meet with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Economy Minister Nir Barkat and Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron upon his return.
“If needed, out of [a sense of] responsibility for tech companies and workers in Israel, we will take steps to help Israeli companies whose operations are centered in Israel to get through this liquidity crisis,” he vows in a statement.
He adds that Israel’s economy “is strong and stable, and this is again coming to expression in this crisis.”
At 8 p.m., Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai will deliver “a significant announcement,” the force’s spokesman says.
No further details are given on the upcoming statement, which comes after Shabtai faced criticism over far-right National Police Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s effort to push out Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed from his post, after criticizing his handling of mass anti-government protests.
KYIV, Ukraine — Russian forces have made progress in their campaign to capture the city of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine, the focus of the war’s longest ground battle, but their assault will be difficult to sustain without more significant personnel losses, British military officials say.
The UK Defense Ministry says in its latest assessment that paramilitary units from the Kremlin-controlled Wagner Group have seized most of eastern Bakhmut, with a river flowing through the city now marking the front line of the fighting.
The mining city is located in Donetsk province, one of four regions of Ukraine that Russian President Vladimir Putin illegally annexed last year. Russia’s military opened the campaign to take control of Bakhmut in August, and both sides have experienced staggering casualties.
Ukrainian troops and supply lines remain vulnerable to “continued Russian attempts to outflank the defenders from the north and south” as the Wagner Group’s forces try to close in on them in a pincer movement, the UK ministry says.
However, the ministry adds, it will be “highly challenging” for Wagner’s soldiers to push ahead because Ukraine has destroyed key bridges over the river, while Ukrainian sniper fire from fortified buildings further west has made the thin strip of open ground in the city’s center “a killing zone.”
Russian military bloggers and other pro-Kremlin Telegram accounts claimed yesterday that Russian forces had entered a metal processing plant in northwestern Bakhmut. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington-based think tank, also referenced geolocated footage showing Russian forces within 800 meters of the AZOM plant, a heavily built-up and fortified complex.
Ahead of tonight’s protests, organizers say they’ll further ramp up their response in the coming days if the government doesn’t shelve legislation for overhauling Israel’s judicial system.
Police stutter a number of major roads in Tel Aviv for this evening’s protests against the government’s push to enact far-reaching changes to the judicial system.
This evening’s demonstrations mark the 10th straight week that protesters have rallied on a Saturday evening. They have also held mass protests during the week, including on Thursday, when demonstrators blocked the Ayalon Highway and clogged up traffic around Ben Gurion Airport.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
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