Protest leaders vow to ramp up anti-government demonstrations, blockade airport

Activists plan to rally at Ben Gurion Airport Monday, as tourism minister seeks to stop them; Air Force reservists say they will refuse to show up for duty if overhaul advances

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

Protest leaders on Tuesday vowed to step up their mass demonstrations against the government, including staging a blockade of the Ben Gurion Airport next week.

While protesters somewhat lowered the flames over the past few months while the judicial overhaul legislation was paused, organizers said that now that the government has begun moving ahead in the Knesset with certain elements of the plan, they will renew efforts.

At a press conference on Tuesday, prominent protest leaders said they plan to blockade the Ben Gurion Airport on Monday, and will weigh other actions moving forward. Shikma Bressler, one of the organizers, said that mass national “days of disruptions” previously held weekly could now become a daily event.

“We promise those who are destroying the country — [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and [Justice Minister Yariv] Levin — there will be surprises. All the groups participating in the struggle will carry out resistance actions according to their judgment,” Bressler said.

In response, Tourism Minister Haim Katz sent a letter to National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara to prevent protesters from blocking the entrance and exit to the airport.

“The right to protest and demonstrate is sacred, but blocking the main entrance and exit to the country is a disproportionate step that is expected to seriously damage the freedom of movement,” wrote Katz.

Activist Shikma Bressler speaks at a press conference of protest leaders against the government’s judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, June 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

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.

The protester leaders’ announcement came hours after a raucous demonstration was held outside Levin’s home in Modiin, including burning tires and blocking roads. The press conference was also held a day after a large rally was staged in Petah Tikva after an anti-overhaul activist was arrested in his home.

Also on Tuesday, hundreds of reservists in an elite Air Force unit signed a letter warning that they will refuse to volunteer for duty if the judicial overhaul goes ahead.

“As long as the unilateral steps to eliminate the democratic regime continue, we will immediately stop volunteering for active service,” the letter says.

Israeli reserve soldiers and activists protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, May 4, 2023. (Flash90)

The military said that it will discipline soldiers who refuse to show up for duty, but stressed that no action would be taken against reservists who at this stage are only threatening not to show up.

Sources in the IDF told reporters that there is a difference between actual refusal and signing a petition threatening to refuse.

The protest outside Levin’s home Tuesday morning was led by the Brothers in Arms organization, a group of military reservists. During the rally, police arrested six of the protesters after they burned tires, scuffled with officers and attempted to block the road. Officers used pepper spray to clear the protesters and video showed police attempting to forcibly remove demonstrators who were sitting in the street.

The six protesters who were arrested were ordered released to house arrest later Tuesday by the Rishon Lezion Magistrates Court. In addition, they are barred from Levin’s hometown of Modiin for 15 days and banned from taking part in any protests for 10 days.

“In the coming weeks, we’ll intensify the struggle for the country’s character, and the nation of Israel must in all its might join the efforts to safeguard democracy,” the Brothers in Arms group said in a statement on Tuesday.

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

Ben Gvir, the far-right national security minister, who has been urging police to deal more forcefully with the protesters, called for police to arrest “the anarchists” outside Levin’s home while claiming dozens would have been handcuffed if right-wing demonstrators had behaved similarly.

“Unfortunately, a handful of rioters are paralyzing Israel with the backing of Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara,” Ben Gvir claimed.

After months of more muted protests during which overhaul compromise talks were being held at the President’s Residence, the government is now surging forward with portions of its plan to radically shake up the judiciary.

On Tuesday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice convened for additional deliberations on a bill to block justices from exercising judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government decisions. Coalition figures have vowed to pass such legislation before the Knesset summer recess in a month.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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