Thousands flood airport in judicial reform protest, police arrest 37

Israeli protesters and police clashed at Ben-Gurion Airport after the protesters refused police instruction to vacate the Terminal 3 hall.

Israeli protesters seen outside Ben-Gurion Airport's Terminal 3 as part of demonstrations against the judicial reform on July 3, 2023 (AVSHALOM SASSONI/MAARIV)

Shouting "democracy," thousands of protesters against the judicial reform waved Israeli flags and Declaration of Independence banners inside and around Ben Gurion Airport's terminal 3 on Monday, the spearhead of a major demonstration campaign across the country in response to new reform legislation.

A protest spokesperson said that traffic jams and protests had effectively shut down the airport.

Inside the terminal, Demonstrators sang the Israeli national anthem "Hatikva" in resistance to police requests for them to leave, according to the protest groups. Videos of the protest showed police attempting to carry and drag away demonstrators. The police said that they were dealing with violent disorder in the terminal by dozens of people, and that 37 protesters were arrested by law enforcement for violating public order after refusing to obey instructions.  Protesters sat or lay down to prevent being removed from the site. Protest groups shared pictures of demonstrators with noses bloodied in the exchanges.

Outside, throngs of protesters lined both sides of the terminal service road, completely filling all the levels of the parking area. Israeli police, some on horseback, took to the middle of the lanes to keep them clear. Photos published by protesters showed that this wasn't successful, with demonstrators laying in the middle of the road. Protesters were carried away by law enforcement outside the terminal as well. Police said that the nearby highway had been kept open and traffic was moving smoothly, but protest groups said that there were traffic jams leading into the airport.

"The police emphasize that this is a blatant violation of public order, harming the security roads and an attack on officers, and we'll work to bring down the full severity of the law on those involved," the police spokesperson said of disruptive activities in and around the airport.

The Kaplan protest group said that the objective was to show the government that they could paralyze the state in the same way that mass protests and airport strikes had done so in March, just before the Judicial Selection Bill was set to pass.

Israelis protest and clash with police during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, July 3, 2023 (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)
Israelis protest and clash with police during a protest against the Israeli government's planned judicial overhaul, at the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, July 3, 2023 (credit: TOMER NEUBERG/FLASH90)

Police warned on Sunday that they would not allow the closure of roads in the area around Ben Gurion Airport, which are considered emergency service lanes. Central District Commander Avi Biton told the Airport Authority that they would see that there would be no major disruption of airport services. After a tour of the site on Monday, Biton said that police were ready to receive protests in a way that would not disrupt public order.

Police Chief Kobi Shabtai said on Monday that it was essential during the security climate not to block the airport gates.

The Movement for Quality Government

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel wrote a letter to Shabtai, asking that law enforcement show restraint and allow for the right to protest. The NGO expressed concern that the police would allow political actors to influence their actions, alluding to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.

"The Israel Police have a key role to play in these difficult days, trying days for Israeli democracy," said MQG head Dr. Elad Shraga. "We are confident that despite the disturbing voices that are heard, the Israel Police -- its officers and commanders -- will know how to protect basic rights for the protesters."

Challenging the reasonableness standard

Protests were announced in the wake of the resumption of reform legislation last Sunday, which had been frozen by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in late March.

Earlier Monday protesters blocked the Haifa Port. The Brother in Arms protest group denounced bills to cancel the reasonableness standard and the weakening of the authority of government legal advisers. They said that Justice Minister Levin was importing from Poland a method to slowly introduce anti-democratic laws. 

"The dictatorship is drowning Israel," read banners flown by the Brothers in Arms protest group at the Haifa Port.

The protesters brought a container filled with Polish salami sausages to the demonstration, to symbolize their stance that the Israeli government's judicial reforms are the beginning of a gradual move toward dictatorship. The symbolism is based on the stance that Poland's current government system is the result of such a move.

Protesters marched elsewhere in Haifa, at the city's Independence square. In Jerusalem, a protest was held in the evening against Netanyahu and other senior official guests at the Israel Museum's sculpture garden at a United States independence day celebration organized by the US embassy. Demonstrations are set to be held at universities across the country throughout the week, according to student protest groups.

Demonstrations are set to be held at universities across the country throughout the week, according to student protest groups.

The protests were held as discussions on the reasonableness standard group were held by Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman. The protest groups joined calls by opposition MKs such as Labor's Gilad Kariv, who urged Rothman to cancel the discussion.

Airport protest goes ahead despite the IDF operation in Jenin

"MK Rothman – when there is a large military operation, you do not continue with legislation that tears apart the people," Kariv wrote on Twitter. "Please, announce that you are canceling the Reasonableness Standard debates as long as the operation in Jenin continues. Put the State of Israel and its soldiers ahead of extreme legislation by you and [Justice Minister] Yariv Levin."

The controversial Reasonableness Standard bill aims to cancel the Supreme Court's ability to strike down decisions by the government or specific ministers based on their being "beyond the limits of reasonableness."

The bill's proponents argue that it gives the Supreme Court the amorphic power to set the limits of "reasonableness" based on its own judgment. Its detractors, including the attorney-general, argue that the reasonableness standard is an important tool to fight corrupt appointments and decisions, and that corruption would increase if it is blocked. 

Some MKs from the coalition criticized the protestor's intention to go ahead with the protest despite the military operation.

"Who are you, irresponsible lawless people who go out to protest while the security forces are at the peak of an operation in Jenin?" said Likud MK Tally Gotliv. "You do not live in Judea and Samaria, and surely do not suffer from stones throwers (in the best case) on your way home. I am embarrassed by you, I despise you, left-wing radicals. This is not a protest, it is a complete loss of values." 

Bereaved families for a Democratic Israel, made up of those that have lost loved ones while fighting for Israel, called for an immediate cessation of the legislation while soldiers were fighting in Jenin.

The Kaplan group said that they would not be changing demonstration plans as the Israeli military's Jenin operation unfolded. The Kaplan Force protest group said that they would be going ahead with the protest, and would put their trust in the IDF and Shin Bet to restore peace and fight terrorism. 

The Kaplan group's focus on preserving democracy

"Our job as citizens is to preserve democracy and protect the values of the Declaration of Independence," said the Kaplan group. Later, after Rothman announced that he sought a committee vote for the bill later in the week, the group said that "while IDF soldiers are risking their lives to protect a Jewish and democratic Israel, Rothman is trying to crush the laws that protect them."

Protesters took up signs in support of the Israeli demonstration contingent in over two dozen cities across the world, protest groups said.

"Kaplan is here: In Washington, in New York, in Paris, and anywhere in the world that has an Israeli and Jewish community that is not ready to give up the Zionist dream, of a Jewish and democratic, equal and safe state," said the Kaplan group.

Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this story.