Israeli police fired stun grenades and scuffles broke out in Tel Aviv on Wednesday during a nationwide “day of disruption,” raising the intensity of weeks of protests against a contentious government plan to shake up the judiciary.
In images not seen in Tel Aviv demonstrations in years, police on horseback tried to stop demonstrators breaching barricades as traffic piled up. Live footage showed police dragging protesters off the road as demonstrators called out “shame” and “we are the majority and we are out on the streets.”
One Tel Aviv protester apparently injured by a grenade crouched down, holding his head, while an Israeli flag lay beside him on the road next to a pool of blood.
Reshet Bet radio said police had used a water cannon to disperse demonstrators.
Police said they arrested 39 protesters in Tel Aviv for disturbing the peace while 11 people were hospitalized with various injuries, according to Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center.
“We will not accept violence against police, road blocking or breach of law. The right to demonstrate is not a right to anarchy,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose nationalist-religious governing coalition pressed ahead with the judicial changes on Wednesday.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir said some demonstrators had thrown stones and that police would use all means at their disposal to stop “anarchists” from rioting and blocking roads.
The judicial reform plan includes giving ruling coalition lawmakers decisive sway in picking judges and limits the scope of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation or rule against the executive.
‘Slow down a little bit’: U.S. ambassador on reforms
In parliament, the Knesset’s constitution, justice and law committee gave initial approval to more proposals in the plan, in a vote boycotted by opposition lawmakers who say Israel will cease to exist as a democracy if it goes through.
The plan has yet to become law but it has already affected the shekel currency and drawn concern among some Western allies about the health of Israeli democracy.
“Slow down a little a bit, maybe bring people together, try and build some consensus,” U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides said at Tel Aviv University’s conference of the Institute for National Security Studies on Tuesday.
Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, says the changes will restore balance between the branches of government and boost business. Economists and legal experts have said they will isolate Israel and wreak havoc on the economy.
Polls have shown the plan is unpopular with most Israelis who would prefer a compromise be reached.
Warning that the country is on the brink of “constitutional and social collapse,” President Isaac Herzog is pushing for an agreed accord.
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