Protesters close Israeli seaport, eye airport as judicial crisis simmers


HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) – Demonstrators briefly shut off access to a major Israeli seaport on Monday ahead of a planned mass convergence on the country’s main airport, as a half-year-long crisis over the government’s judicial overhaul again builds up steam.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had doused some of the protests during compromise talks with the opposition but they proved fruitless. He is now pursuing a legislative package he says is a scaled-back version of the overhaul, which previously plunged Israel into political turmoil and hurt its economy.

As Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition has a comfortable parliamentary majority, critics have been staging more street protests in an effort to halt changes they see as a threat to court independence.

Scores of demonstrators, some holding Israeli flags and others beating drums, blocked the gate of the northern Haifa port for 1.5 hours. A port spokesperson said they had held up the entry of around 100 trucks and delayed the loading of cargo.

Protest leaders called for a similar shut-down of Ben Gurion Airport, Israel’s main international gateway, in the afternoon.

However, police pledged to keep Ben Gurion operating and access routes open, citing both high summer traffic and a need to ensure emergency vehicles can respond to events such as the unscheduled landing over the weekend of a damaged airliner.

One flyer circulated online called on demonstrators to come to Ben Gurion with suitcases and passports, suggesting that they planned to pose as passengers in order to bypass the police cordons.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, has defended his judicial reforms as restoring balance between the various branches of government and redressing what he and his coalition allies see as overreach by the courts.

Washington has urged Netanyahu to seek broad consensus rather than rapidly push through unilateral changes it said could undermine Israeli democracy.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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