Israelis protesting a contentious government plan to overhaul the judicial system were set to step up their opposition on Wednesday, with large demonstrations and road closures expected in what protest leaders have dubbed a “national day of disruption.”
The demonstrations come as the government barrels ahead with the legal changes. A parliamentary committee is moving forward on a bill that would weaken the Supreme Court. The Knesset also is set to cast a preliminary vote on a separate proposal to protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from being removed from his post over calls that he cannot serve as premier while on trial for corruption.
Protesters blocked the main highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem early Wednesday, halting rush hour traffic for about an hour. At busy train stations in Tel Aviv, protesters prevented trains from departing by blocking their doors, Israeli media reported. Police said four protesters were arrested for disturbing the peace.
In response, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, an ultranationalist, called on police to prevent the road blockages, labeling the protesters “anarchists.”
Thousands of protesters came out in locations across the country waving Israeli flags. The main demonstrations were expected later Wednesday outside the Knesset and near Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem.
The rival sides are digging in, deepening one of Israel’s worst domestic crises. The legal overhaul has sparked an unprecedented uproar, with weeks of mass protests, criticism from legal experts, business leaders and the security establishment — as well as concern from international allies.
The clash comes as Israel and the Palestinians are mired in a new round of deadly violence and as Netanyahu’s government, its most right-wing ever, is beginning to show early cracks just two months into its tenure.
Neither side appears to be backing down. The government has dismissed calls to freeze the overhaul and make way for dialogue and the protest organizers have pledged to intensify their fight until the plan is scrapped.
The government says the changes are meant to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power and allowed them to meddle in the legislative process. They say the overhaul will streamline governance and say elections last year, which returned Netanyahu to power with a slim majority in parliament, gave them a mandate to make the changes.
Critics say the overhaul will upend Israel’s system of checks and balances, granting the prime minister and the government unrestrained power and push the country toward authoritarianism.