ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 144

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Protesters attempt to kayak, swim to Netanyahu’s private coastal home

Demonstrators from the navy reserves are turned away at Caesarea beach near prime minister’s residence by his security detail and local police

Illustrative: Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, off the coast of Haifa, March 9, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Illustrative: Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, off the coast of Haifa, March 9, 2023. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Protesters opposed to the government’s judicial overhaul on Friday attempted to reach Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s private home in the coastal town of Caesarea by sea.

The demonstrators, led by veterans of the navy and a group of IDF reservists known as “Brothers in Arms,” arrived at the northern city’s beach near Netanyahu’s home in kayaks and by swimming.

Video showed the protesters paddling along the shore in single and multi-person kayaks bearing Israeli flags. Other participants arrived at the beach wearing wetsuits and other snorkeling gear.

They approached Netanyahu’s home but were removed from the scene by local police and the prime minister’s security detail.

Law enforcement said the activists had been carrying out an illegal demonstration.

The protesters from the navy reserves said they had done the demonstration to communicate to Netanyahu that he needed to “stop the judicial overhaul.”

Members of the navy veterans group have previously taken to the water to block the entrance to Haifa Port, one of Israel’s main international marine hubs, as part of the nationwide demonstrations against the government.

Other demonstrators have also used creative means to protest the coalition’s contentious legislative push, including during Thursday’s nationwide rallies that took place a day after the coalition flatly rejected an alternate proposal for judicial reform from President Isaac Herzog.

Activists dressing as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a dystopian novel and TV series, have made regular, ominous appearances at the demonstrations.

They say they are demonstrating to prevent what they believe will be a dark future if the government follows through on its plans, particularly for women.

Margaret Atwood, the author of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” said Thursday on Twitter that images of the costumed demonstrators marching in formation down a Tel Aviv street were “astonishing.”

In another unusual protest act, on Thursday demonstrators painted a broad, bright red line in the street leading up to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, saying it symbolized the direct link between the independence of the courts and free speech. Police said they arrested five people for vandalizing public property.

Another group set up an “army recruitment center” outside the municipality building in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. Most ultra-Orthodox men eschew military service and the community’s parties in the coalition aim to codify their exemptions in law.

“We have come to pass the burden of recruiting to the ultra-Orthodox population because if there is a dictatorship here, we will have to come here and recruit. We repeat: Without democracy, there is no people’s army,” the demonstrators in Bnei Brak said.

In Rehovot, members of the group set up sandbags around the magistrate’s court, saying they were protecting the courts from “attacks from criminals trying to carry out a coup.”

Protesters supporting women’s rights dressed as characters from ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ TV series attend a protest against the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system, Tel Aviv, Israel, March 11, 2023. (AP/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Other demonstrators have blocked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s access to the airport, forcing him to travel to the airport by helicopter to catch a flight abroad.

In addition to the public protests, IDF reservists have increasingly expressed doubt about their continued service, or said they will stop showing up, due to the government’s plans. Hundreds of elite reservists on Thursday announced they will halt their volunteer service starting Sunday in protest.

Alongside the mass demonstrations, the government’s plans have sparked dire warnings from security officials, legal experts, finance leaders, entrepreneurs and opposition politicians.

The government’s legislation, in its current form, will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians. Opponents argue it will drastically weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an over-activist court.

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