Netanyahu airlifted to airport after protesters block road

Tel Aviv, Israel: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to be airlifted Thursday to the country’s main international airport for an overseas trip after throngs of cars and protesters prevented him from driving there.

The demonstrations were part of nationwide protests underway for more than two months against Netanyahu and his government’s contentious plan to overhaul the judiciary. Demonstrators made blocking Netanyahu’s airport route Thursday a centerpiece of their efforts — the optics of the Israeli leader having to make alternate travel plans a win for the protest movement.

The helicopter ride, while avoiding snarling traffic triggered by the protest, could deepen Netanyahu’s reputation as being out of touch with Israelis at a time when the economy is slowing and the country finds itself torn apart over the government’s plan.

Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, who has been trying to mediate a compromise between Netanyahu’s allies and the opposition, appealed for a solution in a televised speech late Thursday.

“What is happening here is a tragedy,” he said as protests continued late into the evening.

Herzog, whose role as president is supposed to be as a unifying force and largely above politics, said the draft promoted by Netanyahu should be dropped immediately. “It is wrong. It is destructive. It undermines our democratic foundations,” he said.

He insisted that weeks of behind-the-scenes talks had brought the sides closer to an agreement.

“History will judge you. Take responsibility, now,” he said.

Speaking later in Rome, Netanyahu appeared to praise Herzog’s efforts, saying “We are all brothers.”

Thursday’s protests also disrupted a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, whose schedule was rearranged to keep his engagements close to the airport.

Image courtesy of (Image: Gulf News)

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