Netanyahu expected to take helicopter to airport to avoid protests

Demonstrators planning ‘national day of resistance’ on Thursday said aiming to block route to airport while prime minister scheduled to fly to Italy for official visit

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks out of a helicopter as he arrives in northern Israel, December 6, 2018 (Amit Shabi/Yedioth Ahronoth/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks out of a helicopter as he arrives in northern Israel, December 6, 2018 (Amit Shabi/Yedioth Ahronoth/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will likely travel by helicopter from Jerusalem to Ben Gurion Airport on Thursday before a flight to Italy, due to expected protests which plan to block his route and ground flights, according to Tuesday reports.

Organizers of the protest movement against the government’s plans to weaken the judicial system are preparing to hold a “national day of resistance to the dictatorship” on Thursday. The campaign seeks to disrupt daily life as part of the ongoing protests, similar to last week’s “national day of disruption,” during which demonstrators carried out labor strikes, road blockages and other activities.

Protesters are seeking to ground 100 flights throughout the day of demonstrations, the Kan public broadcaster reported.

Israelis living in Italy are also planning to rally against Netanyahu during his stay in Rome, the report said.

Netanyahu has postponed meetings planned for Thursday to Friday, anticipating he may have trouble flying out of Israel, Channel 13 reported.

Netanyahu is set to meet with his counterpart, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, and other high-profile figures before returning to Israel on Saturday night.

The trip is one of Netanyahu’s first international visits since retaking office as prime minister in December.

Mounted police are deployed as Israelis block a main road to protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Netanyahu’s trip already faced complications when national carrier El Al was unable to find pilots to fly the prime minister and his delegation to Italy.

Some reports had indicated that the difficulty in finding a crew to staff the flight was tied to the widespread public protests. El Al denied that the issues were political, but rather a lack of pilots qualified to fly the model of plane requested by Netanyahu, a Boeing 777 wide-body airliner that is expensive to operate.

After a dispute over the flight, Netanyahu, his wife, and staff will now travel on a smaller Boeing 737 operated by El Al for the four-hour flight.

For many years, Netanyahu has faced questions over his seeming preference for costly creature comforts while flying, such as having a special bed installed for a short trip to the UK several years ago. An airplane he commissioned for use by the state’s leaders, also a 777, was mothballed by the previous administration as a waste of money, but has since been revived by Netanyahu, though it is not yet operational.

The premier’s most recent trip abroad took place last month when flew to France to meet with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. He also met with business chiefs and Jewish community leaders during the visit to France.

Israelis protest against the government’s planned overhaul to the legal system, outside the president’s residence in Jerusalem, on March 4, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mass protests have rocked Israel for over two months since Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced the government’s plans to drastically restructure the judiciary.

Critics say the government’s planned judicial overhaul will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

Last week, protesters held a flagship rally in Tel Aviv and blocked a key junction in the city during the “day of disruption” against the judicial plans. Police used horse-mounted cops, water cannons, and stun grenades to disperse the demonstrators.

The force came under criticism for the rough treatment of the protesters, including over an officer who hurled a stun grenade into a crowd of people. An investigation has been opened into the officer’s actions.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has instructed police to use a heavy hand against anti-judicial overhaul protesters who block roads, and who have been painted by himself and several members of the government as “anarchists.”

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