Israeli police use stun grenades, water cannon in crackdown on protests against judicial reform

Weeks of anti-government protests in Israel turned violent on Wednesday for the first time as police fired stun grenades and a water cannon at demonstrators who blocked a Tel Aviv highway. The crackdown came shortly after Israel’s hard-line national security minister urged a tough response to what he said were “anarchists.”

The violence came as thousands across the country launched a “national disruption day” against the government’s plan to overhaul Israel’s judicial system.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s allies say the program is meant to reduce the influence of unelected judges. But critics, including influential business leaders and former military figures, say Netanyahu is pushing the country toward authoritarian rule and has a clear conflict of interest in targeting judges as he stands trial on corruption charges.

Since Netanyahu’s government took office two months ago, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the changes, which they say endangers Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances. Wednesday, however, marked the first time police used force against the crowds.

The government is barreling ahead with the legal changes and a parliamentary committee is moving forward on a bill that would weaken the Supreme Court.

In addition to the protests, Netanyahu’s government, Israel’s most right-wing ever, is beginning to show early cracks, just two months into its tenure.

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