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Members of Israel's military protest against government attempts to weaken courts

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have the sounds of protest in Israel.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in non-English language).

INSKEEP: What's a protest without a kazoo? People are blocking roads today, the latest wave of dissent against a right-wing government. You will recall, the coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to shift the balance of power in Israel's democracy, taking the authority to overrule Israel's supreme court. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the streets of Tel Aviv. Hi there, Daniel.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are you seeing?

ESTRIN: Oh, I'm seeing hundreds, thousands of Israeli protesters demonstrating. They're actually in hundreds of spots across the country. I'm in a main downtown boulevard in Tel Aviv. There's a lot of police here, people blocking the roads. There are even protesters in yachts blocking one of Israel's main ports.

INSKEEP: Wow.

ESTRIN: There are protesters in their cars blocking the entrance to Israel's international airport. They're trying to disrupt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's flight to Rome today. These protests are also disrupting Defense Secretary Austin - Lloyd Austin's visit here today. Now, the protesters are - they have one goal. They want the right-wing government to stop advancing legislation, as you mentioned, to weaken the judiciary. We are even hearing now members of Netanyahu's own party saying, let's put on the brakes. We need dialogue. The government says it is considering a compromise to this controversial legislation. The opposition says, don't fool us - it's just more of the same. And, you know, top figures in Israel's security establishment are now calling this Israel's deepest domestic crisis in history.

INSKEEP: I'm glad you mentioned Lloyd Austin, the secretary of defense from the United States, who's trying to visit because, of course, Israel is a very close ally of the United States and vice versa. This is something that a lot of people are closely following here in the United States for a lot of different reasons. I understand that in addition to people on the streets, you are hearing from people in the military establishment, people who are defending the country. What are you hearing?

ESTRIN: Oh, yeah, I've met several combat reservist officers today in the streets. They're signing petitions with their fellow reservists, soldiers and officers saying they refuse or they will refuse to serve in the military if Israel passes these laws weakening the judiciary. It's an unprecedented phenomenon in a country where the military is, really, holy. You know, I spoke to one man, Omer Dank (ph), who's an - he was an F-16 navigator. He retired last year. His job was to navigate the bombs dropped in Israel's operations. And he says, you know, navigators - pilots like him and navigators like him, they're afraid that if Israel's judiciary is weakened, it could open people up like him to war crimes prosecution. And even, they say, there's this crisis of trust that the far-right Israeli government now could launch operations and wars that they don't believe in. Take a listen.

OMER DANK: We are bombing a lot of buildings. And if we can't trust the decision-makers, it will be very hard to participate in such a process.

ESTRIN: You know, Steve, we are also seeing violence in the West Bank. Six Palestinians killed, including gunmen, yesterday. A 14-year-old Palestinian boy died of his wounds from that raid. Israeli raid today, Israel killed three more Palestinian gunmen. So we're seeing instability in the West Bank, in the occupied West Bank, in Israel. This is multiple fronts.

INSKEEP: Multiple fronts, multiple sources of pressure on the Israeli state. And NPR's Daniel Estrin is covering it all from the streets of Tel Aviv. Daniel, thanks so much.

ESTRIN: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "VAULTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.