Mass protests, strikes engulf Israel over Netanyahu’s court reforms
TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Workers from a range of sectors in Israel launched a nationwide strike on Monday, threatening to paralyse the economy as they joined a surging protest movement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Departing flights from the country's main international airport were grounded, large mall chains and universities shut their doors, and Israel's largest trade union called for its 800,000 members — in health, transit, banking and other fields — to stop work.
Diplomats walked off the job at foreign missions, local governments were expected to close the preschools they run and cut other services, and the main doctors union announced its members would also strike.
The growing resistance to Netanyahu's plan came hours after tens of thousands of people burst into the streets around the country in a spontaneous show of anger at the prime minister's decision to fire his defence minister after he called for a pause to the overhaul.
Chanting “the country is on fire,” they lit bonfires on Tel Aviv's main highway, closing the thoroughfare and many others throughout the country for hours.
Tens of thousands of protesters gathered Monday outside the Knesset, or parliament, to keep up the pressure.
“This is the last chance to stop this move into a dictatorship,” said Matityahu Sperber, 68, who joined a stream of people headed to the protest.
“I'm here for the fight to the end.”
The overhaul — driven by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, and his allies in Israel's most right-wing government ever — has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises. It has sparked sustained protests that have galvanised nearly all sectors of society, including its military, where reservists have increasingly come out publicly to say they will not serve a country veering toward autocracy.
Israel's Palestinian citizens, however, have largely sat out the protests. Many say Israel's democracy is tarnished by its military rule over their brethren in the West Bank and the discrimination they themselves face.
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