Tens of thousands of people demonstrated against the government in Israel on Sunday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who had called for a halt to the disputed justice reform. In Israel, protests against the reform, which according to critics would limit the autonomy of the Israeli judicial system, have been going on for months, but those on Sunday night were spontaneous and particularly chaotic and could generate further divisions in Netanyahu’s government.
Protests were held in all major Israeli cities, and began soon after the announcement of Gallant’s firing.
In Tel Aviv, thousands of people blocked the city’s most important highway, while in Jerusalem there were clashes between protesters and the police protecting Netanyahu’s private residence. During the night the demonstrations subsided practically everywhere, but it is possible that there will be new protests in the next few hours. In particular, the president of Histadrut, Israel’s largest trade union, said he would make an “important” announcement on Monday: he is likely to call some form of general strike.
At the same time, in protest against the government, the presidents of some Israeli universities have announced that classes will be suspended in the coming days and the Israeli consul general in Washington has resigned. After the protests Isaac Herzog, the president of Israel (who has a mainly formal role), asked to “immediately stop the legislative process” of the justice reform, “for the good of the people of Israel and in the name of responsibility”.
The justice reform desired by Benjamin Netanyahu’s government provides, among other things, for the government to appoint judges to the Supreme Court, the removal of some systems of control of the judicial system over the government and, in general, greater freedom of the executive on the appointments of judges.
The reform (which in part has already been approved) has been causing huge protests and opposition in Israel for months now, as well as some criticism within the government itself. Gallant, defense minister and former admiral of the Navy, was the first to announce his explicit dissent. In a televised speech aired on Saturday, Gallant said it was necessary to stop the legislative process because the large protests of recent times are posing a risk to national security: among other things, the demonstrations are involving a growing number of military and especially of reservists, who are an important part of the Israeli military and who are refusing to take part in training.
“Divisions within our society are widening and entering Israel’s armed forces,” he said, adding that these divisions were causing “a clear and immediate and tangible danger to the security of the state. And I’m not going to take part in any of this.”
A day later Gallant was removed from his post with a one-line statement that read: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided tonight to remove Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.”
If the protests against the reform were to expand further and even lead to strikes, as it seems in these hours, it cannot be ruled out that divisions within the Israeli government will increase. In addition to Gallant, the finance minister also recently expressed some doubts about the effects that the justice reform could have on the country’s economy. Netanyahu’s majority in the Israeli parliament (64 out of 120 deputies) is solid by the standards of local politics but does not make the prime minister immune from possible internal riots.
In any case, the government recently announced that it intends to go ahead with the parliamentary work of the reform, which should resume on Monday.
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