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Israel: Police and Anti-judicial Reform Protesters Clash as Bill Advances

Israeli police have clashed with protesters amid huge demonstrations against the government’s controversial judicial reform plans.

Police used water cannon to clear a major highway, and 71 people have been arrested across the country.

It comes after a bill to remove the power of the Supreme Court to review ministers’ decisions passed its first reading in parliament on Monday night.

The reforms have polarised the country, sparking months of mass demonstrations.

The bill is part of a package of reforms aimed at scaling back the power of the judiciary that have been proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which is the most right-wing in Israel’s history.

It argues that the courts exercise too much political interference, overriding the will of the electorate. Critics of the reforms say the government’s plans are too extensive and are a grave threat to the country’s democratic system.

Protest leaders had called for a Day of Resistance on Tuesday in the event that the bill brought on Monday night passed the first of three readings required before it can become law.

In dramatic scenes inside the parliament building in Jerusalem just before MPs voted on the bill, protesters tried to glue themselves to the floor by the entrance to the chamber before they were dragged away by guards.

The demonstrations began early on Tuesday morning, as protesters waving Israeli flags, banging drums, carrying flares and chanting slogans blocked roads across the country, causing snarl-ups during rush hour.

In Tel Aviv, video showed a police horse knocking a protester to the ground, while further north in Herzliya, protesters burnt tyres in the middle of a junction before being removed by police.

Thousands of demonstrators converged on Israel’s Ben Gurion International Airport later on Tuesday, packing into a designated protest area at Terminal 3, the airport’s main hub. Some complained of overcrowding and being hemmed in by the police.

Earlier, a group of war veterans protested inside the terminal, with supporters dressed as red-caped characters from the dystopian novel and TV series The Handmaid’s Tale greeting people arriving into the country.

Demonstrations have also been called outside the president’s residence in Jerusalem, the Israeli defence ministry in Tel Aviv, and the US embassy’s branch office there.

The controversial reform plans have deeply divided the country, with weekly mass protests – often drawing hundreds of thousands onto the streets – since the government unveiled them at the start of the year.

Significantly, hundreds of reservists – the backbone of Israel’s military – have threatened to stop turning up for duty in protest at the reforms.

On Tuesday, reservists from Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security agency and the Mossad intelligence service also said they would follow suit.

The military’s chief of staff has said reservists do not have the right to refuse to show up, and the military has said it will act against anyone who follows through on their threats.

Source : BBC