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Israel Sees A Lot Of Protests After Netanyahu Fires A Minister Who Opposed A Judicial Reform

Story Highlights
  • Netanyahu and his allies control 64 of the 120 seats in the legislature, so in theory, five Likud rebels could take away the coalition's absolute majority.
  • Danny Danon, a lawmaker from the Likud party, said it was too soon to know if there were enough rebels in the party to stop the bill. He told CNN

Late Sunday night, there were a lot of people on the streets of Tel Aviv, Israel, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister because he didn’t agree with a plan to change the way the courts work.

Protesters could be seen blocking streets and bridges, including the Ayalon Highway, with Israeli flags and chants of “democracy.”

Protesters lit several fires on Tel Aviv’s main highway. The thick, black smoke rose into the sky and partly covered some of the city’s famous skyscrapers. Around 2 a.m. local time in Tel Aviv, there were fewer protesters, but live pictures from the scene showed security forces firing water cannons on those who were still there.

Israel’s political crisis got worse on Sunday when Netanyahu’s office said in a one-line statement that Yoav Gallant had been fired. Gallant had been the first member of the cabinet to call for a halt to controversial plans to change the country’s court system.

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

Gallant called for a stop to the judicial reforms in a speech on Saturday night, when Netanyahu was out of the country on an official trip to the UK. Some military reservists have promised to quit because they don’t agree with the plans, which critics say would hurt the independence of the judiciary. Gallant said that going ahead with the plans could threaten Israel’s safety.

After his removal and the protests that followed, a number of high-ranking officials called for a stop to the judicial reform process.

In a Facebook post on Monday, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu and his government to stop the plans right away, saying, “The eyes of the whole world are on you.”

“Deep worry hangs over the whole country. “Security, the economy, and society are all threatened,” Herzog said in the statement.

“The eyes of everyone in Israel are on you. All of the Jewish people are watching you. The attention of the whole world is on you. For the sake of Israeli unity and a sense of responsibility, I ask you to stop the legislative procedure right away.”

As protesters gathered into the early hours of Monday, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar, and Diaspora Affairs and Social Equality Minister Amichai Chikli, who are all from Netanyahu’s Likud party, also said that Netanyahu should stop the law.

Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, said that Netanyahu should “stop and recalculate” his plan to change things, because it has brought the country to the edge of civil war.

In his speech on Saturday, Gallant said that the break was needed “for the security of Israel.” He said that some Israel Defense Forces reservists had stopped training in protest of the government’s plans.

Gallant said this again in a tweet on Sunday after he was fired: “The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always be the mission of my life.”

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid called Gallant’s dismissal a “new low.” He said on Twitter that Netanyahu might be able to fire the minister but “cannot fire the people of Israel who are standing up to the craziness of the coalition.”

“The Prime Minister of Israel is a threat to the security of the State of Israel.”

Asaf Zamir, the Israeli Consul General in New York, quit after Netanyahu decided to fire Gallant. In his resignation letter, which he posted on Twitter, Zamir called Netanyahu’s move a “dangerous decision” and said he was “growing more worried about the policies of the new government, especially the judicial reform it is leading.”

“I think that this reform threatens the rule of law in our country and goes against the very basis of our democracy,” he wrote.

Universities in Israel will go on strike starting on Monday, they said, and the country’s largest labor union and business leaders said they would hold a press conference on Monday morning. The labor union, Histadrut, said that its press conference

Under the plans, the government would be in charge of appointing judges, and parliament would be able to overrule Supreme Court decisions.

The government says the changes are necessary to rein in the Supreme Court, which they see as insular, elitist, and no longer representative of the Israeli people. Opponents say that the plans threaten the foundations of Israeli democracy.

Israel’s government is worried about the military reservists’ protest because they are often called up to train and serve, even during peacetime.

Itamar Ben Gvir, Israel’s far-right National Security Minister, had asked Netanyahu to fire Gallant after his speech on Saturday. “Gallant gave in tonight to blackmail and threats from all those anarchists who call for resistance and use the [Israel Defense Forces] as a bargaining chip,” Gvir tweeted.

“Gallant was elected by right-wing voters, but in practice he supports a left-wing agenda. At the moment of truth, he gave in to the pressure from the media and the protesters. I want the Prime Minister to fire him immediately.”

Netanyahu is already under a lot of pressure, but on Sunday, Israel’s High Court gave him a week to respond to a petition calling for him to be held in contempt of court.

The Israeli group Movement for Quality Government is taking legal action after the attorney general told Netanyahu that he broke the law and broke a court-ordered conflict of interest order when he said he would personally be involved in the judicial overhaul.

Part of the bill has already been passed, which takes away the courts’ ability to say that a prime minister is unfit for office.

Critics say that Netanyahu is pushing through the changes because he is on trial for corruption, but Netanyahu denies this.

Netanyahu himself has given no sign that he will back down. In a speech on Thursday, he said he would address the concerns of “both sides,” but he promised to keep going with the plans for reform.

Danny Danon, a lawmaker from the Likud party, said it was too soon to know if there were enough rebels in the party to stop the bill. He told CNN, “We will only know on Monday,” when members of the party meet in the Knesset, or parliament.

Netanyahu and his allies control 64 of the 120 seats in the legislature, so in theory, five Likud rebels could take away the coalition’s absolute majority. But lawmakers can skip votes or not show up, which lowers the number of votes a law needs to pass.

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