Netanyahu may use helicopter to reach Ben Gurion as protesters expected to block roads

Reports suggest the Israeli prime minister will not be able to travel by road to Ben Gurion Airport ahead of a visit to Rome

Protests against the new Israeli government have been going on throughout Israel for months. Reuters
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to travel to the Ben Gurion Airport from Jerusalem by helicopter ahead of his trip to Italy on Thursday, to avoid protesters who have threatened to block roads.

Protesters are seeking to prevent 100 flights leaving the country to oppose state plans to reform the judiciary, Israel's public broadcaster Kan said on Thursday.

Demonstration leaders have called for a “national day of resistance to the dictatorship”, which comes a week after a “national day of disruption” that saw vast protests across the country, road blocks by demonstrators and a heavy handed police response in Tel Aviv.

Mr Netanyahu's trip to meet his Italian counterpart is one of the first international visits he has made since taking office in December.

It also comes amid intense division within Israel over the new government's radical policy agenda.

Last week, Mr Netanyahu's travel plans were thrown into chaos when Israel's national airline, El Al, appeared to struggle to find any pilots to fly him and his wife as a result of opposition to his government.

El Al chief executive Dina Ben Tal Ganancia announced sufficient staffing had been found and denied that the apparent shortage was due to political reasons.

She blamed a lack of pilots qualified to fly Boeing 777s, the aircraft that Mr Netanyahu was planning to use.

Ms Ganancia said she would “not allow any boycotts of any kind, and certainly not against the prime minister of Israel”, in a statement on Sunday.

The couple will now use the smaller Boeing 737, for which the airline has a greater number of qualified pilots.

Broadcaster Channel 12 later reported that the airline offered the Prime Minister's Office the flight for a fraction of the usual fee.

The episode comes as many Israeli professionals threaten to boycott work over judicial reforms.

Last week, 37 out of 40 reserve pilots in an elite air force squadron said they would not attend a training session.

The move by some of the air force's elite pilots comes as others in Israel's security community are heavily criticising government policy.

Members of special forces units and cyber security experts have all stated their opposition in recent days.

Dialogue Calls

On Monday President Isaac Herzog renewed calls for dialogue, saying that Israel is “closer than ever” to reaching a compromise on the reforms.

Government proposals for the judiciary include a new “override clause” that would allow parliament to relegislate — by simple majority — laws that the Supreme Court rejects and give the government control over the selection of judges.

Other reforms include allowing ministers to select their own legal advisers, ending a previous arrangement whereby such counsel would come from the Justice Ministry.

The government says changes are necessary to tame what it views as an overly powerful and politically biased judiciary.

On Tuesday, the Moody's rating agency said the plans could negatively affect the country's economy.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 5:39 AM