Mass protests erupt in Israel after Netanyahu fires minister who opposed judicial reform

Mass protests erupt in Israel after Netanyahu fires minister who opposed judicial reform

Massive crowds filled the streets of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv late Sunday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister over his opposition to a planned judicial reform.

Waving Israeli flags and chanting “democratia,” protesters could be seen blocking streets and bridges, including the Ayalon highway.

Thousands of people flocked to downtown Tel Aviv on Sunday night in support of the ousted Defense Minister.
Thousands of people flocked to downtown Tel Aviv on Sunday night in support of the ousted Defense Minister.

Protesters lit several fires on Tel Aviv’s main highway, whose acrid black smoke billowed skyward, partially obscuring some of the city’s most iconic skyscrapers. Protesters also gathered along the highway, burning scrap metal and wood with little or no police presence.

Israel’s political crisis deepened Sunday when Netanyahu’s office announced the dismissal of Yoav Gallant in a one-line statement, after he became the first cabinet member to call for a pause in controversial plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to remove Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from his post,” the statement read.

Gallant advocated halting judicial reforms in a speech Saturday night, when Netanyahu was out of the country on an official visit to the United Kingdom. Some military reservists have vowed to retire from service in opposition to the plans, which critics say would undermine the independence of the judiciary. Gallant said going ahead with the proposals could jeopardize Israel’s security.

As protesters rallied in the early hours of Monday, three Israeli government ministers – all members of Netanyahu’s Likud party – suggested that Netanyahu should halt judicial law reform.

“When the house is burning, you don’t ask who is right, you pour water on it and save its occupants,” tweeted Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar. “If the prime minister decides to stop the legislation to avoid the fracture created in the nation, we should support his stance.”

And Economy Minister Nir Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, suggested that Netanyahu should “stop and recalculate” his reform plan, warning that it has brought the country to the brink of civil war.

“Reform is necessary and we will do it, but not at the cost of a civil war,” he said.

Israel’s former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Monday called on Netanyahu to suspend the planned judicial reform and cancel the defense minister’s dismissal.

“I call on the prime minister to withdraw Gallant’s dismissal letter, suspend the [judicial] reform and enter into a negotiating truce until after Independence Day,” Bennett said on his Twitter account.

Protests had subsided by 2 a.m. local time in Tel Aviv. CNN’s team on the ground saw half a dozen police cars speeding toward where the protesters were and live footage from the scene showed security forces firing water cannons at the still-gathered demonstrators.

A city police spokesman told CNN that police are preparing to disperse the Ayalon protesters southbound near the Hashalom interchange and are asking demonstrators to leave the area and evacuate the road.

The comments by the now-fired Defense Minister Gallant, who is a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, upset Israel’s already delicately balanced coalition government. It is unclear whether the plans will be able to go ahead. An official in Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister had lost confidence in Gallant, adding that he had not authorized the comments in advance and had thus “sabotaged efforts to reach a solution.”

In his speech Saturday, Gallant said the pause was necessary “for Israel’s security,” citing the refusal of some Israel Defense Forces reservists to train in protest of the government’s plans.

Gallant reiterated that sentiment in a tweet Sunday after his dismissal: “The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always remain my life’s mission.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Gallant’s dismissal a “new low.” He wrote on Twitter that Netanyahu could fire the minister but “he cannot fire the people of Israel who are facing the madness of the coalition.”

He added: “Israel’s prime minister is a danger to the security of the State of Israel.”

Former Israeli defense minister and opposition lawmaker Benny Gantz tweeted, “We face a clear, immediate and tangible danger to Israel’s security,” before adding that the danger had intensified. “Tonight Netanyahu has put politics and himself above security.”

Israel’s consul general in New York, Asaf Zamir, resigned in response to Netanyahu’s decision to fire Gallant. In his resignation letter, which he posted on Twitter, Zamir called Netanyahu’s move a “dangerous decision” and added that he is “increasingly concerned about the policies of the new government and, in particular, the judicial reform it is leading.”

“I believe that this reform undermines the very foundations of our democratic system and threatens the rule of law in our country,” he wrote.

Israel’s universities will go on strike starting Monday, they announced, and the country’s largest union and business leaders said they would hold a press conference Monday morning. The union, Histadrut, said its press conference with business leaders scheduled for 11 a.m. (4 a.m. Miami time) would be dramatic.

Controversial judicial reform

Under the proposals, the government would control the appointment of judges and parliament could overrule Supreme Court decisions.

The government argues that the changes are essential to rein in the Supreme Court, which it considers insular, elitist and no longer representative of the Israeli people. Opponents claim the plans threaten the foundations of Israeli democracy.

The protests by military reservists are of particular concern to the Israeli government, as they are regularly called up for training and service, even in times of peace.

Israel’s National Security Minister, far-right Itamar Ben Gvir, had called on Netanyahu to fire Gallant after his speech on Saturday. “Gallant gave in tonight to the blackmail and threats of 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. When push came to shove he collapsed under pressure from the media and protesters. I call on the Prime Minister to fire him immediately.”

Adding to the pressure on Netanyahu, Israel’s Supreme Court on Sunday gave him a week to respond to a petition to be held in contempt of court.

The legal action by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel comes after the attorney general told Netanyahu that he had acted illegally and violated a conflict of interest court order by saying he would personally involve himself in the judicial review.

Part of the bill, which deprives the courts of the power to declare a prime minister unfit for office, has already been passed.

Critics say Netanyahu is pushing the changes because of his own ongoing corruption trial; Netanyahu denies this.

Netanyahu himself has given no indication that he will back down. In a speech Thursday he said he would address the concerns of “both sides,” but vowed to press ahead with reform plans.

Likud lawmaker Danny Danon said it was too early to tell whether there were enough rebels in the party to stop the legislation, telling CNN, “We will only know on Monday,” when party members 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 absent themselves, which reduces the number of votes a law needs to pass.

Melissa Galbraith
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.For tips or news submission: