03/01/2023, 20.23
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Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir use iron fist against protests opposed to judicial reform

Police use water cannons and tear gas cannons. Scores of peaceful protesters are arrested during the “national day of disruption”. Israel’s prime minister and National Security minister call for zero tolerance towards "anarchists". Tensions run high in the Knesset committee reviewing the judicial reform bill designed to limit the powers of Israel’s supreme court. Now the bill goes before the whole parliament.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – Police charged and fired tear gas at crowds in the streets of Tel Aviv today, arresting scores of protesters who oppose a controversial bill to reform Israel’s justice system that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet are trying to push through.

The proposed judicial reform is fuelling tensions across the country with the authorities opting for an iron fist against peaceful protesters resulting in some demonstrators being injured during the confrontation.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir have, for their part, described the protest as “anarchy”.

Launching a “national day of disruption”, protesters called for road blocks and occupying railway tracks, as well as strikes at schools and workplaces. The motorway connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the country’s two main cities, was also blocked.

For its part, police responded with extreme harshness, using water cannons to disperse the crowds.

In the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, the Law and Justice Committee passed the contentious bill for its first reading. Outside, the proposed reform continued to generate criticism and attacks, with some saying that it will turn the country into a “dictatorship".

Avichai Mandelblit, a former attorney general, slammed again the bill, saying that country is “experiencing a regime coup”.

Another bill is also before the Knesset and will likely raise tensions and lead to further confrontation.

If approved the bill, which is spearheaded by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength or Jewish Power) party, would impose the death penalty on people convicted of terrorism, which would end up being used in particular against Palestinians.

Following events last week in Huwara, where settlers attacked Palestinians, Ben-Gvir kept quiet. Now, as protests break out in Israel, he is calling for “zero tolerance towards anarchists”, i.e. Israelis protesting today, including 26 who were arrested.

Prime Minister Netanyahu gave Ben-Gvir his full support, backing his action against anti-government protests.  

During the confrontation, the police detained several people, dispersing the others with water cannons. In one video, a group of police officers are seen wrestling with a single protester before one of them kneels on his neck, putting the latter’s life at risk.

Brothers in Arms, a group of reservists, spoke out against the arrest of two former soldiers of the elite Sayeret Matkal. Their “arrest symbolises exactly what is happening here: Sayeret Matkal is in custody, and Netanyahu is a prisoner of Ben Gvir,” the group said in a statement.

In the Knesset, committee pushing through the reform has approved the bill that would limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to reject laws if it deemed them unconstitutional.

Opposition members boycotted the committee, while some were ejected for objecting to the rushed vote before it went before the whole parliament.

Opposition MKs were especially incensed by committee chairman Simcha Rothman for limiting debate. “This is a regime putsch!” fumed Yisrael Beytenu Yulia Malinovsky before leaving the committee room.

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