A group of Israelis demonstrate against the judicial reforms of the country’s far-right government outside the Kohelet Political Forum headquarters in Jerusalem on March 9, 2023. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

By Said Hayyoun

BEN-GURION AIRPORT, Israel, March 9 (Reuters) – Many Israelis opposed to judicial reforms carried out by the country’s far-right government gathered at the country’s main airport on Thursday in an attempt to disrupt a trip to Israel. foreigner of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. , as well as a visit from the US Secretary of Defense.

Despite a large police deployment, convoys of cars displaying the Israeli national flag headed for the halls of Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv. Some local media reported that Netanyahu and his entourage arrived at dawn to bypass roadblocks. Others speculated that he would arrive in Ben-Gurion – normally a 30-minute drive from Jerusalem – by army helicopter.

Netanyahu’s spokesmen had no immediate comment on the fate of the Israeli prime minister, who was due to leave for a two-day visit to Rome in the afternoon, following a rushed welcome hosted at the airport by the head of the US Department of Defense. Austin.

Footage posted to social media showed two senior officials from Netanyahu’s entourage shopping at Duty Free.

Protest organizers had called for traffic reductions from mid-morning in what they dubbed a ‘Day of Resistance’ against reforms they fear will subordinate the Supreme Court of Israel in the executive power and encourage corruption.

Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges which he denies – says restricting the justice system will restore the balance between state powers.

“Nobody said not to protest,” Israeli Police Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir told reporters at the airport, where he went to coordinate the response to the protests. “But it’s not right, it’s not right, it’s not right to poison the lives of 70,000 people.”

It appears to refer to both people stuck in traffic and those passing through Ben-Gurion, whose spokesman said the expected passenger volume for Thursday was 65,000.

In a message posted on the WhatsApp messaging app, protest organizers urged travelers to arrive early in Ben-Gurion: “We are trying to balance our desire to shake up the country with the need to allow people to travel to their destinations”.

Austin, who is touring the area, was scheduled to arrive Wednesday. But the US Secretary of Defense postponed the visit and moved the meetings to a location near Ben-Gurion, fearing the protests would make it difficult to get to the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv.

Opinion polls show that judicial reform is unpopular with the majority of Israelis, who would prefer a consensual agreement.

Two law professors, Yuval Elbashan and Daniel Friedman, presented reform proposals this week. Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary and two ministers gave a preliminary welcome to the project. But opposition leaders have said they will not approve it unless Netanyahu suspends ratification votes.

In Jerusalem, a group of protesters used sandbags and barbed wire to barricade the offices of the Kohelet Political Forum, a think tank that has advocated reforms by the Israeli government.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean; Editing in Spanish by Darío Fernández)

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