Israel: Netanyahu reverses decision to fire defence minister as controversial judicial overhaul continues
Mass protests are taking place in Israel over the proposed judicial system overhaul
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reversed the decision to fire his defence minister for challenging him on the controversial judicial reforms following widespread criticism against the move.
Netanyahu fired Yoav Gallant from the role last month amid controversy and demonstrations against his government's plans to overhaul the judicial system. However, in a televised speech, the Israeli leader told the public: “I decided to put the differences we had behind us.
“Gallant remains in his position and we will continue to work together for the security of the citizens of Israel. Even in the last few days we worked together and stood together around the clock on all fronts in the face of security challenges.”
It comes after Netanyahu delayed the second and third reading of his highly-controversial judicial review following mass protests in the country.
Tens of thousands of Israelis poured on to streets of cities across the country in a spontaneous outburst of anger after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister for challenging the Israeli leader’s judicial overhaul plan. In an address to the country in which he announced the delay, Netanyahu said that an "extremist minority" was dividing the nation.
Protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a main highway and lit large bonfires while police scuffled with protesters who gathered outside Mr Netanyahu’s private home in Jerusalem. The unrest deepened a months-long crisis over Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, which has sparked mass protests, alarmed business leaders and former security chiefs, and drawn concern from the United States and other close allies.
The firing comes a day after the defence minister called on the Israeli leader to halt a planned judicial overhaul that has divided the country and prompted growing discontent within the ranks of the military. The moved signalled that Netanyahu will move ahead this week with the overhaul plan, which has sparked mass protests, angered military and business leaders and raised concerns among Israel’s allies.
Defence minister Yoav Gallant was the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the plan. In a brief statement, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister had dismissed Gallant.
Pictures and videos from Israel on Sunday (26 March) show protesters taking to the streets, waving the nation’s flag.
Why was the defence minister fired?
The decision to fire Gallant came less than a day after he called for a pause in the controversial legislation until after next month’s Independence Day holidays, citing the turmoil in the ranks of the military over the plan. While several other Likud members had indicated they might follow him, the party closed ranks on Sunday, clearing the way for Gallant’s dismissal.
Galit Distal Atbaryan, Netanyahu’s public diplomacy minister, said that Netanyahu summoned Gallant to his office and told him “that he doesn’t have any faith in him any more and therefore he is fired”. Gallant tweeted shortly after the announcement that “the security of the state of Israel always was and will always remain my life mission”.
What has the reaction to the firing been?
The decision to remove Gallant from his position after causing for a pause in the legislation has sparked further protests in Israel. There had already been mass protests recently over the plans.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid said that Gallant’s dismissal was a “new low for the anti-Zionist government that harms national security and ignores warnings of all defence officials”. “The prime minister of Israel is a threat to the security of the state of Israel,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.
Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Bet security agency, is expected to replace him. Dichter had reportedly flirted with joining Gallant but instead announced on Sunday he was backing the prime minister.
What protests are happening in Israel?
Protest organisers called for a spontaneous demonstration outside military headquarters in Tel Aviv in response to Netanyahu’s dismissal of his defence minister. The Jerusalem Post reports that heads of local authorities in Israel will begin a hunger strike in front of the Prime Minister’s office to protest against the government.
Demonstrations took place in Beersheba, Haifa and Jerusalem, where thousands of people gathered outside Mr Netanyahu’s private residence. Police scuffled with protesters and sprayed the crowd with a water cannon. Inon Aizik, 27, said he came to demonstrate outside Netanyahu’s private residence in central Jerusalem because “bad things are happening in this country”, referring to the judicial overhaul as “a quick legislative blitz”.
Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past three months to demonstrate against the plan. Leaders of Israel’s vibrant high-tech industry have said the changes will scare away investors, former top security officials have spoken out against the plan and key allies, including the United States and Germany, have voiced concerns
In recent weeks discontent has even surged from within Israel’s army – the most popular and respected institution among Israel’s Jewish majority. A growing number of Israeli reservists, including fighter pilots, have threatened to withdraw from voluntary duty.
Meanwhile, The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which opposes the overhaul, asked the court to force Netanyahu to obey the law and sanction him either with a fine or prison time for not doing so, saying he was not above the law.
“A prime minister who doesn’t obey the court and the provisions of the law is privileged and an anarchist,” Eliad Shraga, the head of the group, said. His language echoed that used by Mr Netanyahu and his allies against protesting opponents of the overhaul.
“The prime minister will be forced to bow his head before the law and comply with the provisions of the law.”