Mounted police fan out in front of a group of Israeli demonstrators who blocked a street to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s judicial reform plans, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, March 9, 2023

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to use a helicopter to fly to the country’s main international airport for an official trip abroad after a massive protest prevented him from reaching the country by car.

The protest was part of nationwide protests, which began more than two months ago, against his controversial judicial reform bill.

Blocking the road Netanyahu had to take to get to the airport was a central goal of the anti-reform protests, and the image of the leader being forced to resort to other means was a victory for the protesters.

The helicopter ride away from the traffic jam caused by the protest would also cement Netanyahu’s image as a leader cut off from the people as the country is torn apart by the government’s plan and the economy begins to slow.

Thursday’s demonstrations also disrupted the plans of US Secretary of State Lloyd Austin, on an official visit, whose schedule was changed so that he could fulfill his commitments near the airport.

At the start of a “day of resistance to the dictatorship”, protesters, carrying Israeli flags, gathered at the country’s main airport and blocked the road to the departure area with their cars.

Elsewhere, protesters gathered at intersections of major thoroughfares and clashed with police in Tel Aviv and other cities. A small fleet of paddle boards and kayaks attempted to block a shipping lane off the city of Haifa. Some protesters in Jerusalem blocked the offices of a right-wing policy research institute that helps advance judicial reform.

Outrage over Netanyahu’s legal reform bill has plunged Israel into one of the most serious internal crises in its history. Beyond the protests, which involve tens of thousands of Israelis and have recently turned violent, the opposition extends across society. Business leaders and legal officials are decrying what they see as the plan’s disastrous effects. The gap has even extended to the armed forces, which are seeing unprecedented opposition rising within their own ranks.

Before leaving, Netanyahu told Italian daily La Repubblica that the protests were an expression of the vitality of Israeli democracy.

But in Hebrew-language press statements, he hinted that the intention of the protesters is to overthrow a democratically elected government.

“The objective here is to overthrow a government that was democratically elected,” the leader said. “We will not allow anyone to disrupt Israeli democracy.”

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