Police minister Ben Gvir: 'We won't allow anarchy'

Overhaul protesters gear up for ‘day of resistance’ throughout the country Thursday

Demonstrators aim to disrupt PM’s route to airport for trip to Italy, as police warn of fines; plans for nationwide marches, strikes, and disruptions to traffic and train services

Demonstrators block a road and clash with police as they protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
File: Demonstrators block a road and face off with police as they protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 1, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The protest movement against the government’s judicial overhaul plans was set to conduct a second major campaign to disrupt daily life in Israel on Thursday, in what activists are calling a “day of resistance.”

The day notably includes plans to block roads around Ben Gurion Airport in an attempt to make it difficult for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to get there for his flight on an official visit to Italy. This in addition to marches, temporary workplace strikes, the blocking of main thoroughfares, disruption of train services and rallies outside the homes of top government officials.

The protest events were laid out in detail on a dedicated website and map (Hebrew), with organizers promising “many surprises,” indicating there were more planned actions that had not been announced publicly.

“It is a civic duty to resist the dictatorship and this is the only way to return Israel to the path of democracy. This is a great battle for the independence of Israeli citizens against the tyranny that will destroy what we have built here for over 70 years. We call on the entire public to participate in protests,” the organizers said in a statement.

Protest heads have specifically called for demonstrators to block roads around Ben Gurion Airport when Netanyahu and his wife are scheduled to depart on their flight to Italy. The trip previously faced setbacks when national carrier El Al was unable to find a crew to man the prime minister’s flight — an issue blamed on crew shortages but which may have also been affected by growing public anger at the government as it pushed forward with efforts to weaken the justice system.

Some media reports indicated Netanyahu was looking at possibly taking a helicopter to the airport to avoid the expected road disruptions.

A major rally in Tel Aviv was to set off from the city’s Habima Square. In addition, protests by workers from the tech sector were planned at 15 locations around the country.

File: Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir in the Tel Aviv police command center, during demonstrations in the city against the coalition’s judicial overhaul, March 1, 2023. (via Twitter; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Police said they too were preparing for the demonstrations, with 3,000 cops set to be deployed across the country.

Officials warned drivers that intentionally cause traffic issues would face fines of NIS 500 ($140) and any woh abandon their cars on the roads could have them impounded.

At a media conference at Haifa’s Rambam Medical Center, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir said he would instruct police to ensure freedom of expression, “but Ben Gurion Airport and main transport arteries are out of bounds.

“We won’t allow anarchy,” he added. Ben Gvir has instructed police to use a heavy hand against anti-judicial overhaul protesters who block roads, who he and other members of the government have painted as “anarchists.”

In response to Ben Gvir, protest organizers said the Otzma Yehudit party chief was “talking back instead of acting like a minister.”

“We call on our brothers in the police to allow a democratic and vibrant resistance tomorrow and to help us stop this coup. If Ben Gvir wants to be a television star, he can go to a reality show and leave serious people to manage the security of the country’s citizens,” they said.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said police would ensure the right to protest, but there would be “zero patience for rioting, damage of property, damage to state symbols and disruptions to routine.”

“We will not allow blocking of roads that have not been coordinated and okayed in advance. The entire public is requested to follow the law and respect the work of officers and policemen on the ground,” he said.

Central District Police Chief Avi Bitton warned Wednesday evening that blocking roads to the airport could “end in disaster,” fearing law enforcers may be prevented by the protesters from responding to potential security incidents at the airfield.

“Israel Police sees the right to protest as a cornerstone of a democratic state, therefore we wallow every citizen to exercise their basic right to protest, but together with this, it should be remembered that there is a special significance to blocking entry to Ben Gurion Airport,” he said.

The Israel Airports Authority called on travelers flying out of the country to arrive early at Ben Gurion Airport for their flights on Thursday, in anticipation of the disruptions.

File: Protesters against the government’s planned judicial overhaul block Route 1 at the entrance of Ben Gurion Airport, February 13, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The IAA said those who can should arrive by train, adding passengers should be in touch with the airlines they’re flying with.

“The Israel Airports Authority will do everything possible to ensure passengers tomorrow fly at their scheduled flight times and to maintain operational continuity at Ben Gurion Airport,” it said in a statement.

The planned protests have already appeared to impact the schedule of United States Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s visit to Israel. Austin was initially slated to arrive in Israel later on Wednesday. Instead, an updated schedule from the Defense Ministry says he will arrive early Thursday morning and meet with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant at Israel Aerospace Industries headquarters, adjacent to the airport, before departing again.

Critics have said the coalition’s proposals will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters have charged it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court.

Last week, protesters held a “day of disruption” around the country with a flagship rally in Tel Aviv that blocked a key junction in the city. Police used horse-mounted cops, water cannons, and stun grenades to disperse them. The force came under criticism for the rough treatment of the protesters, including an officer who hurled a stun grenade into a crowd of people. An investigation has been opened into the officer’s actions.

Following is a schedule of the main planned protest activities Thursday, as announced by the organizers:

  • 7 a.m.: Protest convoys of agricultural vehicles leaving from agricultural communities around the country.
  • 8 a.m.: Demonstrations by parents and students outside dozens of schools across the country.
  • 8 a.m.: The “Israel will not be a dictatorship march” from the Namir-Yehuda Maccabi Junction in Tel Aviv to Milano Square for a signing of the Declaration of Independence.
  • 9:15 a.m.: A convoy of disabled IDF veterans will set off from various locations to Ben Gurion Airport Terminal 1.
  • 10:30 a.m.: Protesters to arrive with their vehicles and drive slowly around Ben Gurion Airport and disrupt traffic.
  • 11 a.m.: Protests by tech employees across the country.
  • 11 a.m.: A march leaving from Tel Aviv’s Habima Square toward Kaplan Street.
  • 4:30 p.m.: A rally outside the home of Economy Minister Nir Barkat in Jerusalem.
  • 5 p.m.: A “day of rage” event at Karkur Junction in the north.
  • 6 p.m.: A rally outside the home of Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the central city of Modiin.

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