Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and Levin lash AG over handling of anti-overhaul protests

‘In what country in the world do people block off an airport and not get prosecuted?’ PM fumes, as opponents of judicial shakeup call to ramp up demonstrations

Travelers to Ben Gurion International Airport, where flights were delayed due to protesters blocking the airport access road, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Illustrative: Travelers on their way to the Ben Gurion International Airport, where flights are being delayed due to protesters blocking the road to the airport, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Thursday lashed out at top law enforcement officials over their response to demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul push.

The three accused Attorney General Baharav-Miara of negligence during a closed-door meeting to discuss protesters demonstrating outside the homes of coalition lawmakers, leaks from which were widely reported by Hebrew media. The talks were held after organizers called to ramp up protests against the coalition’s advancement of the judicial shakeup, including a blockade of Ben Gurion Airport on Monday.

Netanyahu blasted the legal authorities for not prosecuting demonstrators who block access to the airport. With schools finishing for the year at the end of this week, the airport is expected to see increased traffic next week, as families head out for summer vacations.

“In what country in the world do people block off an airport and not get prosecuted?” said Netanyahu, who was forced to take a helicopter to the airport to catch a flight abroad earlier this year because demonstrators were blocking the roads.

Ben Gvir, who has been urging police to deal more forcefully with protesters, demanded Baharav-Miara and State Prosecutor Amit Aisman present indictments filed against protesters in the past six months.

“There is one law here for Kaplan and a second law for everyone else,” Ben Gvir was quoted as saying by Channel 13 news, referring to the street in Tel Aviv where the main weekly rally against the judicial overhaul is held.

Opponents of the government’s judicial overhaul plans protest outside Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s home in Modiin, June 27, 2023. (Jonathan Shaul/Flash90)

Levin complained about recent demonstrations outside coalition members’ homes, including one at his residence in Modiin this week during which six protesters were arrested, asking Baharav-Miara and Aisman if anyone has been charged. Supporters of the government staged similar protests near the homes of members of the previous coalitions.

“Stop passing responsibility onto the police. You are responsible,” Levin said.

He also reportedly said: “There is no law and no judge. Everyone will do as they see fit.”

Aisman and Baharav-Miara told the ministers that indictments have been filed but they did not know how many. They added they are not responsible for enforcing the law in the field.

The meeting came as police braced for an escalation in protests that are expected over the weekend and early next week, with the force expecting a large turnout at demonstrations.

Law enforcement intelligence does not expect any surprises, however, according to the Kan public broadcaster, after a group of protesters blocked off a Tel Aviv highway on Thursday without giving any warning.

Members of the crowd turn their backs on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he speaks at a pilot graduation ceremony at the Hatzerim Air Base, June 29, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

The broadcaster separately reported that Airport Workers Union chief Pinchas Idan — a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party — said he was willing to shut down Ben Gurion Airport if the move helped advance the government’s judicial legislation.

Idan made the reported comments during a hearing by Likud’s internal court on a petition to oust the union boss for joining a general strike the Histadrut labor federation declared on March 27, as anti-government protests surged over Netanyahu’s since-reversed decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for calling to pause the overhaul bill. The strike was called off later that day after Netanyahu froze the legislation to allow for negotiations with the opposition, which have failed to yield any breakthroughs and were recently put on hold as the sides jockey over the panel that appoints judges.

Despite Netanyahu’s announcement of a legislative pause, Idan raised the ire of Likud members for his actions to delay numerous flights that day, with 2,000 party members signing a petition calling for his ouster. In his defense, Idan has said he understood the strike to have been implemented in coordination with Netanyahu.

“I was misled by Histadrut chairman [Arnon Bar-David] to think there was coordination with the Prime Minister’s Office,” Idan was quoted as saying by Kan.

Airport union chief and Likud party member Pinchas Idan arrives at the Elections Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Amid the proceedings against him, other Likud members have expressed support for Idan, with the party’s comptroller saying in April that if he’s booted from the party, Netanyahu and Gallant should be too, noting ministers and lawmakers have not faced potential sanctions over their own calls or action to halt the judicial legislation.

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