TEL AVIV — Israeli military reservists blocked the entrance to the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv on Tuesday as protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned overhaul of the judicial system again swept the country.
Almost every Israeli does military service and the political views of reservists carries significant weight.
Elsewhere in Tel Aviv, demonstrators blocked roads and gathered outside the stock exchange, many waving Israeli flags, in what campaigners called a “day of disruption.”
By 12 a.m. (5 a.m. ET), police said 19 people had been arrested for alleged public disorder offenses. Police said in a statement that while the right to protest would be upheld, disruption of public order “will not be tolerated.”
The protests came a day after President Joe Biden spoke to Netanyahu by phone in what is seen as an easing of tensions between the two leaders over the judicial overhaul.
Biden urged Netanyahu to find "the broadest possible consensus" on the judicial reforms and stressed that "shared democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship," the White House said in a statement.
Democracy campaigners have for months taken to the streets, blocked highways and taken industrial action over government plans to give Netanyahu and his allies greater powers to appoint judges and overturn court decisions.
Netanyahu paused the plan in March amid growing public pressure, but it is back in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, this week and lawmakers are expected to make their final votes on it next week.
Shikma Bressler, a physicist and one of the leaders of the protest movement, said in a statement that the government was clear about its plans to "terminally undermine both the courts and the free press," taking inspiration from "similar authoritarian regimes around the world."
"But as you can see from the streets, squares and highways of Israel today and for 29 weeks in a row, the public has chosen a different path: Democracy," she said.
"We are here to say to Israel's government: The more you press, the harder we resist," Jonathan Eran Kali, 62, a retired tech worker, told Reuters.
Netanyahu and his orthodox and ultraconservative coalition allies argue that the plan is needed to rein in the power of biased, unelected judges.
Transport Minister Miri Regev wrote to the country’s attorney general asking for legal intervention to stop protesters from shutting down train stations, The Jerusalem Post reported. Protests are expected to last into Wednesday and beyond as the bill makes it way through parliament.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right Cabinet minister who once said there was "no such thing" as a Palestinian people, said he wished a speedy recovery to a protester who was injured Tuesday, without providing any further details.
Opposition parties have attempted to stall the bill's progress by filing more than 27,000 objections — but the ruling Likud party and its coalition partners hold a majority and they have until recess on July 30 to get the legislation passed.
Netanyahu and his allies have pointed to a lecture by a conservative Supreme Court justice, Noam Sohlberg, in 2020 in which he raised concerns about some judicial rulings that are made according to "reasonableness."
Sohlberg said this week, however, that he was not suggesting that the problem should be fixed with new legislation.
Netanyahu, 73, was admitted to a hospital and fitted with a heart monitor Saturday after being treated for dehydration. He later said he’d been outside in the hot sun without a hat or water.
Lawahez Jabari and Paul Goldman reported from Tel Aviv, and Patrick Smith from London.