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Protests erupt in Israel as Netanyahu fires minister

By Sarah May
|
March 28, 2023

Israelis in large numbers have turned out to protest a decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in an escalation of ongoing tumult over the former's plan to overhaul the country's judiciary, as NBC News reports.

Demonstrators clogged the main artery in Tel Aviv, and additional mass protests broke out in the towns of Haifa, Beersheba, and Jerusalem, with universities and unions vowing to launch a general strike in opposition to Netanyahu's desired reforms.

Gallant fired

As the Jerusalem Post reported, Netanyahu's decision to fire Gallant was announced late on Sunday, a move which sparked the aforementioned mass protests.

The dismissal came in response to Gallant's bold statement imploring Netanyahu to put a pause on his planned judicial overhaul so as to engage in broader negotiations with stakeholders and to prevent a dangerous threatened revolt among military reservists that could put Israels' national security at risk.

Gallant's statement did not sit well with Netanyahu, who accused the defense minister of going “behind the government's back” while he was abroad in the U.K.

Following the firing, Gallant stated that the “security of the state of Israel has always been and will always be my life's mission,” while Netanyahu fired back that “everyone must stand up to insubordination,” according to the Post.

Planned overhaul triggers unrest

As the Associated Press has reported, soon after retaking power late last year, Netanyahu and top figures of his Likud Party declaring their intentions to swiftly overhaul the judiciary, spurring a deluge of criticism from those concerned about the ideological direction of the country.

Netanyahu's proposed changes would have afforded his coalition government full control over judicial appointments, provide parliament the ability to overturn rulings of the Supreme Court, and enact limits on judicial review of the country's laws.

Opponents fear that the overhaul would hand Netanyahu's government control over a previously independent judiciary and erase the country's system of checks and balances, and they also accuse the prime minister of having a direct conflict of interest given the fact that he is currently on trial for corruption.

The prime minister, however, has maintained that the changes are necessary to counteract an increasingly activist judiciary and pledged to move forward with the dramatic reforms.

Opposition speaks out

Upon hearing the news of the defense minister's firing, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid lashed out at the prime minister, according to the Post, saying, “Netanyahu can fire Gallant, but he can't fire reality, and he can't fire the Israelis who are standing up against this coalition's insanity.”

Netanyahu's immediate predecessor, former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett also weighed in, saying, “The State of Israel is in the greatest danger since the Yom Kippur War. I call on the Prime Minister to withdraw Gallant's dismissal letter, suspend the reform and begin a pause in negotiations until after Independence Day. It's doesn't matter who is right and who is wrong. I call on all the demonstrators and all the citizens of Israel – do everything without violence, without bloodshed. We are brothers.”

Former Defense Minister Benny Gantz registered his concerns about the sharp trajectory of unrest in his country, declaring, “We face a clear and immediate danger to Israel's security” and accused Netanyahu of putting “politics and himself above security.”

The Movement for Quality of Government characterized Gallant's dismissal as an extremely serious situation indicative, in its belief, that Netanyahu is “not ethically or morally” qualified to serve in his current role.

Netanyahu announces pause

Tensions across Israel appeared to ease somewhat, however, following a Monday evening speech in which Netanyahu announced a monthlong delay in the planned judicial overhaul, as the Associated Press reported separately.

In his address to the nation, the prime minister acknowledged the deepening divide among the citizenry, declared his desire to “avoid civil war,” and pledged to seek compromise with the opposition.

Yohanan Plesner of the Israel Democracy Institute opined of the prime minister's pivot, “He understood that he's in a dead end. And Netanyahu, who is very experienced, understood that now is the time for correction.”

Though it appears that the pause may temporarily quell a good deal of the protests seen in recent days, there remains a healthy skepticism on both sides that a mutually agreeable compromise can be achieved, despite the prime minister's promise to reach a “broad consensus” in the weeks to come.