Protests have erupted in Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant for breaking ranks and calling for a pause in the government’s controversial drive to overhaul Israel’s court system.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to remove Defence Minister Yoav Galant from his post,” the Prime Minister’s office said in a statement on Sunday local time.
Tens of thousands of people blocked a major highway in Tel Aviv after the announcement, waving Israeli flags and lighting a large bonfire on the road.
Demonstrations also took place in Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, where thousands of people gathered outside Netanyahu’s private residence.
They have followed similar mass protests throughout the country in the past three months, ever since Netanyahu’s controversial judicial reform plan was announced.
Galant used a speech on Saturday night — when Netanyahu was out of the country on an official visit to the United Kingdom — to call for a halt to judicial reforms, which have sparked weeks of protests. Some military reservists have pledged to pull out of their service in opposition to the plans, which critics say would undermine the independence of the judiciary.
The comments by Gallant, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, opened a rift in Israel’s already delicately balanced coalition government that could mean the plans are unable to advance.
“The Prime Minister summoned Minister Gallant to his office and told him that he had lost confidence in him after he acted against the government and against the coalition while the Prime Minister was on a political visit abroad,” an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said.
“Minister Gallant did not coordinate his words with the Prime Minister in advance and thus sabotaged efforts to reach a solution.”
In his speech on Saturday, Gallant said the pause was needed “for the security of Israel.”
“Any manifestation of refusal that eats away at the strength of the IDF and harms the security system should be stopped immediately,” Gallant said, a reference to the refusal of some Israel Defense Forces reservists to train in protest at the government plans.
Gallant reiterated that sentiment in a tweet on Sunday after his dismissal: “The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always remain the mission of my life.”
As he delivered his speech on Saturday, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators were out across the country protesting against the plans for the twelfth week in a row.
Israel’s former Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Gallant’s dismissal a “new low.” Former Israeli Defence Minister and opposition lawmaker Benny Gantz said Netanyahu had “put politics and himself above security.”
“The dismissal of the Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant, just because he warned of a threat to Israel’s security is a new low for an anti-Zionist government that harms national security and ignores the warning of all security officials,” Lapid wrote in a tweet posted Sunday night.
He added that Netanyahu might be able to fire the minister but “cannot fire the people of Israel who are standing up to the insanity of the coalition.”
Lapid concluded the tweet writing: “The Prime Minister of Israel is a danger to the security of the State of Israel.”
Gantz tweeted: “We face a clear, immediate and tangible danger to Israel’s security. aggravated danger. Tonight Netanyahu put politics and himself above security. I strengthen Yoav Galant who put the security of the country above all interests.”
Proposed judicial overhaul
Under the proposals, the government would have control over the appointment of judges, and parliament would gain the power to override Supreme Court decisions.
The government argues the changes are essential to rein in the Supreme Court, which they see as insular, elitist, and no longer representative of the Israeli people. Opponents say the plans threaten the foundations of Israeli democracy.
The military reservists’ protest is seen as a particular worry for Israel’s government, as they are regularly called up to train and serve, even in peacetime.
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Soon after the defence minister’s comments, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir called on Netanyahu to fire Gallant.
“Gallant gave in tonight to blackmail and threats from all those anarchists who call for resistance and use the [Israel Defense Forces] as a bargaining tool,” Gvir tweeted.
“Gallant was elected by the votes of right-wing voters and in practice promotes a left-wing agenda. At the moment of truth he collapsed under the pressure of the media and the protesters. I call on the Prime Minister to fire him immediately.”
Piling further pressure on Netanyahu, Israel’s High Court on Sunday gave him a week to a respond to a petition calling for him to be held in contempt of court.
The legal move by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel comes after the attorney general told Netanyahu he acted illegally and violated a court-imposed conflict of interest order by saying he would personally involve himself in the judicial overhaul.
Part of the bill — which effectively strips the courts of the power to declare a prime minister unfit for office — has already been pushed through.
Critics say Netanyahu is pushing through the changes because of his own ongoing corruption trial; Netanyahu denies this.
Netanyahu himself has given no indication he will back down. In a speech on Thursday he said he would address the concerns of “both sides,” but pledged to continue with the reform plans.
Likud lawmaker Danny Danon said it was too soon to know if there were enough rebels in the party to stop the legislation, telling CNN, “We will only know Monday,” when members of the party meet in the Knesset, or parliament.
Netanyahu and his allies control 64 seats in the 120-seat legislature, so in theory five Likud rebels could deprive the coalition of an absolute majority. But lawmakers can abstain or be absent, bringing down the number of votes a law needs in order to pass.
Or, as Danon put it to CNN: “You don’t really need 61.”
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Last modified: September 28, 2022