Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday fired Defence Minister Yoav Galant a day after he broke ranks, citing security concerns in calling for a pause to the government’s controversial judicial reforms.
On a day when 200,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest the reforms, Mr Galant — who had been a staunch Benjamin Netanyahu ally — on Saturday said “we must stop the legislative process” for a month in view of its divisiveness.
The plans to hand more control to politicians and diminish the role of the Supreme Court have been questioned by Israel’s top allies including the United States, while regularly igniting protests in Israel.
“The growing social rift has made its way into the (army) and security agencies. It is a clear, immediate and tangible threat to Israel’s security,” said Mr Galant, who is a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s own right-wing Likud party.
“I am committed to Likud values… and placing the State of Israel above all… but major changes on the national level must be made through deliberations and dialogue,” he said, also calling for a halt to the protests.
Detractors see the reform project as threatening Israel’s democracy, but the government argues changes are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.
Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday decided to “dismiss Defence Minister Yoav Galant”, the prime minister’s office said in a brief statement.
In response to the decision, Mr Galant countered on Twitter: “The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always remain the mission of my life.”
– Slim majority –
Mr Galant’s call for a halt to the reforms came before lawmakers are due to vote this coming week on a central part of the proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.
Two other Likud lawmakers had tweeted their support for Mr Galant, raising questions over whether the government could count on a majority if it pushes ahead with a vote.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded on Twitter to Mr Galant’s dismissal by saying the prime minister can fire Mr Galant, “but he cannot fire reality and cannot fire the people of Israel who are standing up to the insanity of the coalition”.
“The Prime Minister of Israel is a danger to the security of the State of Israel,” Mr Lapid added.
Mr Galant, a former general, was named to his post in December as part of Netanyahu’s coalition with far-right and ultra-Orthodox allies.
He is the first casualty but other high-level officials have also expressed reservations.
Earlier this month, President Isaac Herzog, who holds a largely ceremonial role, voiced concern over the deepening rift in society and presented a proposed compromise, which the government rejected.
Isaac Herzog raised the spectre of “a genuine civil war”.
– ‘Illegal’ intervention –
Israel’s attorney general on Friday accused Benjamin Netanyahu of “illegal” public intervention on the reform programme, after he made a nationwide TV address the previous evening.
Isaac Netanyahu is on trial over charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said the prime minister’s televised declaration “and all interventions on your part on the process” of adopting the judicial reforms “is illegal”.
The prime minister must “avoid any involvement in changes in the judicial system and particularly in the process of nominating judges, as this places you in a situation of conflict of interests,” Baharav-Miara argued in an open letter published by the justice ministry.
In his televised address, the prime minister vowed to “responsibly advance” the reforms and “end the rift” they have caused in the nation.
A parliamentary committee has amended the draft law with the aim of making it more palatable to opponents, but the opposition has ruled out backing any part of the reform package until all legislative steps are halted.
Demonstrators have meanwhile announced a “national paralysis week”, including countrywide rallies, protests outside ministers’ homes and on Wednesday outside parliament.
Isaac Netanyahu’s broadcast gave rise to contempt of court accusations filed with the Supreme Court by a non-governmental organisation, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, an anti-corruption group.
The NGO’s complaint, seen by AFP, alleges Isaac Netanyahu violated an agreement with the court that an accused prime minister does not have the right to act in a matter that could constitute a conflict of interest.
Isaac Netanyahu has until April 2 to respond to the complaint, the Supreme Court said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)