Mar 28, 2023 - Podcasts

Mass protests force change in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he will delay his coalition's judicial overhaul legislation to “avoid civil war.” Protesters have flooded the streets of Israel for months in opposition to his plan to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court.

  • Plus, another fatal school shooting, this time killing six.
  • And, a drinking water scare in Philadelphia.

Guests: Axios' Barak Ravid and Shane Savitsky.

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Lydia McMullen-Laird, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected] You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, March 28th.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: another fatal school shooting, this time killing six. Plus, a drinking water scare in Philadelphia. But first, mass protests force change in Israel. That’s our One Big Thing.

Mass protests force change in Israel

NIALA: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday, he'll delay his coalition's planned judicial overhaul legislation to “avoid civil war.” That was after mass protests in Israel's largest trade union called for a strike, all in opposition to Netanyahu's Plan to weaken Israel's Supreme Court. Protests have been widespread for months.

Axios’ Barak Ravid joins us from Tel Aviv with what's next. Hi Barak.


NIALA: Was that Civil War statement by Netanyahu hyperbole?

BARAK: I don't think so. But it was odd, taken into consideration that this entire crisis was of his own making. He is not like this bystander or, um, impartial monitor from the UN who's just looking at, uh, things. He initiated this whole thing and, you know, within three months since his government was sworn in this judicial overhaul tarnished the Israeli economy, totally destabilized it. Created an unprecedented crisis within Israel's military and security services that led the Minister of Defense himself to warn that this situation is a clear and immediate threat to the national security. Something that got him fired because of doing his job and obviously produced international criticism like, you know, I've never seen, and I'm doing this for 18 years now. So this was a crisis that Netanyahu, uh, produced almost, on his own with the help from his far right partners.

NIALA: There were far right groups calling for violence against the pro-democracy protests on Monday night. Did that happen?

BARAK: Unfortunately, the, there were several cases that were reported by people, uh, mainly in Tel Aviv, but also in Jerusalem. People who were attacked by a gang, by the name of La Familia, which is affiliated with a soccer team from Jerusalem and also affiliated with the Israeli Right, several people were attacked, uh, women were harassed. Some people were beaten up, some people were pepper sprayed. There were, I think, at least 10 different incidents that I heard about.

NIALA: So this delay is until Passover. What happens after that?

BARAK: It's basically until after Independence Day, which means I think something like between six and seven weeks of, uh, suspension. This suspension is, at least what people think that will happen is that there'll be some sort of negotiations under the auspices of President Herzog with the Likud and the opposition parties, sending negotiators to try and negotiate and agreed upon, uh, legislation. The chances of that happening, I'm afraid to say, are not very high, or, I mean, there will be negotiations but I, I don't see them bearing any fruit.

And then the question will be whether when the Knesset, the next Knesset session opens, whether Netanyahu will resume the whole process or as some people think it will already be too late. Meaning some of the people around Netanyahu, especially the Minister of Justice who pushed this thing, said that once you suspend it, it's impossible to resume it again because you lose the momentum and it's, it's, it's just too hard. Others think that again, that Netanyahu, brought it to such an advanced stage that in order to turn it on again, it's a matter of hours until he goes for a vote.

NIALA: So what does this move mean for the U.S. Israel relationship?

BARAK: Just look what happened in the pro-Israel community in the U.S. in the last few weeks. This thing rattled so many people that for years were the staunchest supporters of Israel in Congress. And I think that inside the Democratic party today, what Netanyahu did in the last 12 weeks caused them, I think unrepairable damage.

NIALA: Barak Ravid is Axios’ contributing correspondent based in Tel Aviv. Thanks Barack.

BARAK: Thank you, Niala.

Another fatal school shooting

NIALA: Six people are dead – including three children – after a school shooting in Nashville yesterday.

Metro Nashville Police say they responded to a call of shots fired at The Covenant School around 10AM on Monday.

The shooter had two assault-style rifles and a pistol and entered through a side entrance of the school.

Three nine-year-olds and three adult staff members at the private Christian school were killed.

Police say the alleged shooter was a 28-year-old former student who was killed by officers who arrived at the scene. Nashville Police Chief John Drake told reporters at a news conference yesterday what they found in the shooter's home…

JOHN DRAKE: We have a manifesto. We have some writings that we're going over, uh, that, uh, pertain to this day, the actual incident. We have a map drawn out of how this was all gonna take place.

NIALA: After the shooting, President Biden reiterated his call for congress to pass his assault weapons ban.

In a moment, Philadelphia residents wait for more information on the safety of their drinking water, after a chemical spill.


A drinking water scare in Philadelphia

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today! I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Philadelphia officials say the city’s water is safe to drink… for now… after a plant spilled chemicals into a tributary of the Delaware River on Friday. Officials say more than 8,000 gallons of a latex product poured into the tributary. The company responsible, Trinseo, says the white liquid is used in various consumer goods – and is about half water and half latex polymer.

The Delaware river supplies nearly 60% of Philadelphia's water, for its 1.6 million residents.

Officials gave an update on the situation yesterday afternoon:

MICHAEL CAROLL: It is safe to drink and use tap water to cook with it, to brush your teeth, to bathe in it, of course, at least until tomorrow at 3:30 PM.

NIALA: Axios local editor Shane Savitsky is based in Philly and has been experiencing all this as a resident…hey Shane.


NIALA: Shane, how did you find out about this spill over the weekend?

SHANE: Yeah, so, uh, got a text message, it was a, like a public health alert, sent to my phone, with a very scary tone. You could hear it going off, uh, in our neighbor's houses as well at about 1:00 PM on Sunday. That said, there is a potential chemical spill in the Delaware River and, after 2:00 PM do not consume the tap water until further notice. And then we got to filling up some pictures, some mason jars, with water before that 2:00 PM deadline. People were coming out of the supermarket when we walked by the convenience store, saw people with cases of water in carts. I had not experienced anything like it since probably like the early days of the pandemic when you saw people grabbing toilet paper.

NIALA: So what's the situation right now with the water in Philadelphia?

SHANE: We got an alert on Sunday afternoon at about 5 o'clock that the water would be safe to drink through 11:59 PM last night. Then, yesterday at about 5, 5:00 PM news conference, the city said that the water would be safe to drink through 3:30 PM today. They said they hadn’t found any contaminants, in the water so far, uh, in the river or in the treatment plant, along the Delaware River. So now I guess it's just a wait and see till later this afternoon and what their update will be then.

NIALA: Shane, how is the city then preparing for its most vulnerable residents or people who maybe don't have access to other sources of water other than their tap water?

SHANE: During a press conference yesterday, the mayor and, and other city officials said that they were preparing and, and had prepared a distribution plan to get water to the city's most vulnerable, you know, the elderly, the, the homebound, the unhoused people who had, haven't been able to hear about this news quite yet. So we haven't gone to that point yet here in Philadelphia. But city officials say they're ready for it should the time come.

NIALA: Shane this comes not long after the East Palestine spill in Ohio which also had officials scrambling to test the water and try to keep residents safe — are there other similarities we should be aware of?

I think it speaks kind of to the, the, the difficulties of messaging, the danger and relaying significant information to people who might not be so trusting in the first place? I mean, this is something so fundamental as the safety of the water that's coming out of our taps here. And you kind of think something like this couldn't happen in a city of, you know, a million and a half people. So I think this is like a real stress test of authority’s ability to communicate such a scary situation. So I have a feeling that they're probably gonna be studying how this situation developed in the future.

NIALA: Shane Savitsky is an Axios local editor based in Philadelphia. Thanks, Shane.

SHANE: Thank you.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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