Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has fired defence minister Yoav Gallant a day after he called for freezing of the judicial overhaul that opponents claim will undermine Israeli democracy.
In a meeting on Sunday night, Mr Netanyahu summoned Mr Gallant and told him he no longer has faith in him as defence minister due to his call to freeze the government’s judicial coup legislation.
Thousands of Israelis took to the streets in protest after news of the dismissal. Reuters TV footage showed huge crowds blocking Tel Aviv’s main highway as well as a group of protesters lighting a bonfire in the middle of the highway. The police used water canon to push back protestors who break through barricads near the prime minister’s house in Jerusalem, according to local reports.
On Saturday night‚ while Mr Netanyahu was still in London after talks with his British counterpart Rishi Sunak, Mr Galant, in a televised news conference, urged Mr Netanyahu to freeze the plan citing the risk to the army’s readiness and growing divisions in Israeli society, including the decision by hundreds of army reservists to refuse to report for duty.
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Mr Netanyahu refused Mr Gallant’s requests to convene the security cabinet to discuss the worsening security situation and the implications of the overhaul on the country’s military.
Before Mr Netanyahu departed for London on Thursday evening, he summoned Mr Gallant to a meeting during which he persuaded him at the last minute to cancel a press conference in which he was due to announce his opposition to the judicial overhaul.
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Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid said the sacking proved that Mr Netanyahu was a danger to Israel.
“Gallant’s sacking, for expressing his concern for Israel’s security, is a new low for this anti-Zionist government that ignores all warnings and endangers the country,” he said. “Netanyahu can fire Gallant, but he can’t fire reality or fire the people of Israel who are standing up to resist the coalition’s madness.”
Following Mr Gallant’s Saturday night statement, opponents of the government hoped other, more moderate members of Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party would follow his example. However, one of them, Avi Dichter, a former intelligence chief who has criticised the judicial overhaul, changed his mind and is now likely to be appointed as Israel’s new defence minister.
The coalition is pushing ahead with the judicial coup and hopes to pass a bill later this week giving the government control over choosing high court judges.