The Media Line: Massive Anti-Judicial Reform Protests at Israeli Airport Disrupt Travel


Massive Anti-Judicial Reform Protests at Israeli Airport Disrupt Travel 

Police arrest 37 during raucous hours long demonstration at Ben-Gurion International Airport 

By Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line 

Massive Anti-Judicial Reform Protests at Israeli Airport Disrupt Travel

Police arrest 37 during raucous hours long demonstration at Ben-Gurion International Airport

By Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line

Passengers disembarking at Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport on Monday were greeted by thousands of protesters who swarmed the arrivals hall and the entryway to the airport, demonstrating against Israel’s proposed judicial reforms with drums, horns and megaphones.

Waving Israeli and rainbow flags, chanting “democracy,” and holding signs, including one that read “Welcome to Iran,” the protesters blocked roads leading to the airport and roads within the airport complex itself.

The anti-government protests caused massive traffic jams on the way to the airport, resulting in some passengers missing their flights. Other passengers waited for hours in the airport, having left early to avoid being stuck on the road. Several flights were delayed amid the chaos.

Nationwide protests against the coalition’s judicial reform legislation have been ongoing for 26 weeks now, with turnouts of more than 100,000 at the weekly demonstrations in Tel Aviv. A proposed compromise between the coalition and the opposition has stalled, and lawmaker Simcha Rothman, one of the architects of the reforms, said on Monday that the judicial reform bill would advance to the Knesset plenary for a first reading next week.

Haggai, a protester at the airport from the city of Kfar Saba, told The Media Line that he had traveled to the airport to oppose the government’s one-sided approach to the judicial reforms. He was especially concerned with a proposal to remove the Supreme Court’s ability to override a government decision on grounds of “unreasonableness.” He cited the Supreme Court’s ruling earlier this year that it was unreasonable to appoint Member of Knesset Aryeh Deri to a ministerial position given his previous corruption charges. Under the proposed judicial reforms, the Supreme Court would no longer be able to justify its decisions on grounds of reasonableness.

“This is what we are fighting right now,” Haggai said. “This government is attacking from so many sides, it’s hard to keep up with all these issues simultaneously. We are trying to fight little by little on each subject, and now we are taking on the ‘reasonableness’ charge and trying to prevent it.”

He said that democracy means not just majority rule but also protections for minorities and consideration for the rule of law.

“It’s unacceptable that each time something doesn’t go the coalition’s way that they break the rules,” he said.

A continuous stream of demonstrators came in and out of the airport by train throughout the afternoon and evening. The airport protest lasted several hours and ran parallel to other demonstrations around the country, including one at the Port of Haifa.

On Sunday, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urged protesters not to shut down the airport. He said that Israel respects freedom of expression and protest, but “blocking cities, blocking streets, paralyzing Ben-Gurion Airport—this is a violation of national security. I expect police to enforce the law and ensure that there is no surrender to rioters and people who want to harm democracy.”

Hours after the protest began, police declared the demonstration illegal and began attempting to disperse the protesters from the airport. Police arrested 37 demonstrators throughout the course of the day. The demonstrators who were arrested had overturned police barricades and blocked roads and entryways to the departures hall.

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said there was no violence on the part of the police but that many demonstrators had to be removed for obstructing public access.

Passengers entering or leaving Israel were forced to weave their way through the protesters to get through the airport. While the protests caused headaches for many travelers, one Israeli traveling through the airport who spoke to The Media Line said he welcomed the demonstration.

“For me, as a supporter of the protests against the judicial revolution, it was very emotional,” Roey, a resident of Modi’in who was returning to Israel, said. “It is one of the most emotional returns I’ve ever had coming to back to Israel—to land and to see this greeting and to see how many people are going out to support democracy under the rule of law and a government that works for its citizens and doesn’t try to grab power that it shouldn’t have.”

He didn’t think the raucous crowd posed a threat to tourists.

“It’s a great atmosphere—happy and easygoing,” he said. “There’s a bit of chaos with transportation and there’s noise, but it’s not different than a celebration if a championship soccer club were returning.”

A protester named Yardi Gil told The Media Line that demonstrators were allowing passengers to walk through the airport unobstructed. Despite the inconvenience, the demonstrations were necessary, she said.

“We need to protest at central places. At Kaplan [Street, a major thoroughfare] in Tel Aviv, the airport, at the Knesset,” she said. “Each time in a different place, we gather to show our opposition.”

Musya and her friend Channa, who had just arrived from New York, told The Media Line they were unperturbed by the chaos.

“I have no opinion, I just think it’s very noisy,” Musya said. “I don’t find this scary. I come from New York. Very little scares me.”

She said she wouldn’t expect anything else from the Jewish state.

“Jews … always have to fight for stuff. We always have to figure stuff out. I have no idea [about this issue.] I don’t live here, but it doesn’t bother me,” she said.

PHOTO – Demonstrators wave Israeli and rainbow flags as they protest against what they regard as a “judicial coup” at Ben-Gurion Airport in central Israel, July 3, 2023. (Nicole Jansezian/The Media Line)

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