Netanyahu's dismissal of the defense minister sparks massive protests

People attend a demonstration after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismissed the defense minister and his nationalist coalition government presses on with its judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 26, 2023. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, sparking massive protests, a day after Gallant broke ranks with the government and called for a halt to a controversial proposal to revamp the court system.

As word of the dismissal spread, tens of thousands of protesters, many carrying blue and white Israeli flags, came to the streets across the country late at night. A security cordon was briefly breached as crowds gathered outside Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem.

Three months after becoming government, Netanyahu's nationalist-religious coalition has been thrown into turmoil by the sharp differences highlighted by its hallmark proposals for judicial reform.

"State security cannot be used as a political trump card. Tonight, Netanyahu crossed a red line. "In a joint statement, opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz declared.

They urged Netanyahu's Likud party members not to participate in "the destruction of national security."

In announcing Gallant's removal, Netanyahu's office neither named a replacement nor provided any other information. It stated, "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant this evening."

Shortly after that, Gallant, 64, said on Twitter: "The security of Israel has been and will continue to be my life's objective."

Police Use Water Cannons 

Netanyahu decided to dismiss Gallant after the retired naval admiral warned on Saturday that the revamp plans posed "an obvious, immediate, and real threat to the state's security" and demanded that they be stopped.

Gallant stated in his broadcast, "At this time, for the sake of our country, I am willing to take any risk and pay any price."

Netanyahu reacted on Sunday night as he was about to pass a vital component of the reform package, a bill that would tighten political control over judicial appointments and grant the president greater latitude to pick Supreme Court justices.

President Isaac Herzog, who is meant to be above politics, cautioned earlier this month that the country faced "catastrophe" if a broader consensus could not be formed on reforming the judiciary.

But, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption accusations he denies, has pledged to move forward with a plan he believes is necessary to rein in activist judges and restore the appropriate balance between an elected government and the judiciary.

The United States expressed grave worry at the events of Sunday and the urgent need for compromise while reiterating appeals to protect democratic norms.

In Jerusalem, police used water cannons to push protestors away from Netanyahu's mansion. At the same time, in Tel Aviv, where hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets since the start of the year, protesters lit multiple bonfires on a major roadway.

As the night progressed, the protests waned, and authorities eventually removed a smaller crowd that refused to go.

It was initially unclear whether the protests would affect the government's actions. At least three Likud ministers have stated publicly that it is time to reconsider their policy and that they would support stopping the legislation if Netanyahu chose to do so. Monday will see the continuation of legislative deliberations, according to the head of the legislative committee.

When the Muslim holy month of Ramadan combines with the Jewish holiday of Passover and the Christian celebration of Easter, Israel's security apparatus has been preparing for potential bloodshed in the coming weeks.

Throughout the past year, Israeli troops have conducted near-daily operations in the occupied West Bank, killing over 250 Palestinian combatants and civilians. In contrast, Palestinian terrorists have killed over 40 Israelis and foreigners.

Diplomat Resigns

On Saturday, Gallant became the most senior Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party member to state that he would not support the judicial change. He said that protests involving increasing military reservists were also impacting regular forces and harming national security.

In recent weeks, senior Finance Ministry officials have warned of a potential economic downturn, and business executives have raised the alarm about the future of their enterprises.

The leader of the Histadrut labour federation, the umbrella organization for hundreds of thousands of public sector employees, expressed surprise at Gallant's dismissal and vowed a "dramatic" announcement on Monday.

The Israeli consul-general in New York announced his resignation in response to the sacking. The research universities in Israel have said they will suspend classes in response to the parliamentary initiative, which demands an immediate freeze.

Some of Netanyahu's coalition allies on the extreme right have called for Gallant's dismissal, but several Likud legislators have supported his request to postpone the reforms.

Netanyahu and his allies hold 64 out of 120 members in the Knesset. This week, a bill giving the executive more influence over the nomination of judges is scheduled to be submitted for confirmation.

Yet how - or even whether - that as-yet unscheduled vote will proceed been questioned by the wave of protest prompted by Gallant's dismissal and the coalition's widening divisions.

Publish : 2023-03-27 09:52:00

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