TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Thousands of protesters on Wednesday blocked Tel Aviv’s main highway and major roads and intersections across Israel in a spontaneous outburst of anger following the forced resignation of the city’s popular police chief.
Ami Eshed announced late Wednesday that he was leaving the Israeli police force under what he said was political pressure. Eshed has regularly clashed with the country’s hard-line national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has demanded that police take a tougher stance against months of anti-government protests.
“I am paying an intolerably heavy personal price for my choice to avert a civil war,” Eshed said.
Thousands of people blocked the Ayalon Highway, halting traffic on the normally bustling thruway. The protesters, many holding blue and white Israeli flags, blew horns, danced in the street and lit multiple bonfires. Police, some mounted on horseback, attempted to push back the crowds, at times using a water cannon.
During a live news broadcast, a motorist drove his car through a crowd of protesters, striking one man and send him crumpling to the ground. The driver was reportedly arrested.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government announced plans in January to overhaul the country’s judicial system. The protests have blocked roads, disrupted the country’s main airport and thronged major cities.
Netanyahu and his allies came to power after November’s election, Israel’s fifth in under four years, all of which were largely referendums on the longtime leader’s fitness to serve while facing corruption charges.
Netanyahu, whose corruption trial has dragged on for nearly three years, and his allies in his nationalist religious government say the overhaul is needed to rein in an overly interventionist judiciary and restore power to elected officials.
Critics say the plan would upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and push the country toward dictatorship by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies.
Netanyahu suspended the overhaul in March after mass protests erupted when he tried to fire his defense minister for challenging the plan.
But talks with the political opposition fizzled last month, and Netanyahu’s allies have begun moving ahead with the plan again.
Ben-Gvir responded to the resignation, saying politics had “infiltrated the most senior ranks” of the police force and that Eshed had made a “complete surrender” to leftist politicians.