Organizers are staging another day of disruptive demonstrations against the Israeli government’s proposed judicial reforms on Thursday, including an attempt to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from departing for Rome.
Dubbed a “Day of Resistance to Dictatorship,” morning protests were seen in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
In Israel’s capital, hundreds of IDF reservists protested outside the offices of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative think tank spearheading the legal overhaul. The Kohelet protest was put on by the Brothers in Arms reservist group.
Seven people were arrested at the Kohelet protest for attempting to block the entrance to the building, according to the Israel Police Spokesperson’s Unit. Video from the scene showed piles of cement bags and wire coil fencing along with protest signs at the front door.
Thousands of security personnel were positioned across Israel to deal with Thursday’s events.
The protests follow a similar “Day of Disruption” last Wednesday during which demonstrators blocked roads, disrupted the national passenger rail system and marched in cities across the country. Clashes broke out between protesters and police in Tel Aviv, with several arrests made.
Massive disruptions expected in Tel Aviv
In Tel Aviv on Thursday morning, high-tech workers set up a massive replica locomotive with a banner reading, “Democracy is the fuel for the economy’s locomotive.”
Police said on Thursday morning to expect several road closures, and heavy traffic was being experienced in other parts of the country as well.
In Haifa, maritime traffic to the port was being blocked by a flotilla organized by “Sailors to Save Democracy.”
According to organizers, Thursday’s protests will include large public demonstrations, marches at universities and demonstrations involving those in the military, high-tech and healthcare sectors.
Protesters are trying to cause disruptions at Israel’s main international gateway on Thursday by driving back and forth between the entrance to Ben-Gurion Airport and Terminal 3, its main passenger facility.
Some media reports indicated that organizers offered to pay the fuel costs for demonstrators to drive to the airport and back, in addition to 250 shekels ($70) each.
Security personnel are stationed at the entrance to the airport equipped with water cannons.
Demonstrators are also attempting to block highways leading to the Ben-Gurion with the aim of preventing Netanyahu from making his flight for a diplomatic visit to Italy.
U.S. defense secretary forced to change plans
Netanyahu will reportedly take a helicopter to the airport from Jerusalem, where before his departure he is expected to meet with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose itinerary for his Israel visit was changed due to the demonstrations.
Austin is due to arrive in Israel for a one-day visit from Egypt as part of his brief Mideast tour that began in Jordan. Instead of traveling to Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, Austin will participate in a meeting at a factory near Ben-Gurion Airport.
The meeting venue change came at the request of Israel’s Defense Ministry, according to Pentagon spokesman Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, with Israeli officials reportedly concerned about demonstrations taking place close to the Kirya military headquarters in central Tel Aviv.
Netanyahu’s visit to Italy will be one of his first trips abroad since retaking office in December after his right-wing coalition won the Nov. 1 election. He is expected to meet with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and other senior officials before returning to Israel on Saturday night.
He and his wife, Sara, will be taking a Boeing 737 for the four-hour flight instead of a larger Boeing 777 wide-body airliner due to a lack of qualified pilots willing to fly the 777.