Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departed on a trip to Rome Thursday—but not before protesters attempted to obstruct his departure by blocking Tel Aviv roads to the Ben Gurion International Airport.
Netanyahu reached the airport by helicopter on Thursday rather than traveling by convoy on the highway. He met with U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the airport rather than at their planned meeting spot in Tel Aviv due to the protests.
Thursday’s protests were reportedly some of the biggest ever in Israel. The demonstrations have been going on for some 10 weeks against controversial judicial reforms introduced by Netanyahu’s coalition government.
Netanyahu had pledged sweeping reforms to Israel’s judicial system when he was sworn in for his sixth term in December. His government has been pushing for changes to limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to rule against the legislative and executive branch. Netanyahu’s coalition government also wants more say in appointing judges.
Netanyahu himself, however, has been barred from involvement in the reform initiative because he’s on trial for corruption charges, which he denies. He has backed the reforms, though, saying that they would boost business and strengthen Israel’s democracy by stopping court overreach.
Some of the proposed changes have already been approved by the Knesset, the Israeli house of representatives. A final vote on the reforms is set for April 2.
The issue, meanwhile, has caused deep divides in Israeli society. Critics say the planned reforms will politicize the judiciary and could lead to an authoritarian government.
Netanyahu’s government has stood firm against the protests, which have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis, accusing political opponents of fueling the uproar.