The Israeli public woke up Monday morning to a nation in trauma after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his own minister of defense Yoav Gallant Sunday night. Gallant was fired after holding a press conference Saturday night declaring that he can no longer support the government’s judicial reform plan and called for a suspension of the legislative process for its passage currently before the Knesset.
Gallant said his reasons for this were the continued declarations by Israeli citizens that they would refuse to perform military reserve duties should it pass and the concerns that its passage would therefore be harmful to Israel’s security.
As a result of the firing of Yoav Gallant, the protests in Israel heated up – literally – with images of bonfires lit by demonstrators even on the main Tel Aviv Ayalon highway itself. Protestors had again blocked that highway, but in the middle of the night, and it was cleared before the morning traffic rush.
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Netanyahu’s defenders point out that it is not acceptable in any government for a cabinet minister, especially a senior one, to declare his opposition to his own government’s policies. And the judicial reform program is not just any plan proposed by Netanyahu’s government, but its central legislative effort.
Also, Gallant did not have to reveal his decision in a televised press conference which some say was an insult to the Prime Minister who was not even in the country at the time. Netanyahu was on an official trip to England.
However, it is the underlying reason behind Yoav Gallant’s decision that is at issue here. As defense minister, he has been dealing with the fallout from a growing number of IDF reservists – including air force pilots – who have threatened to perform their reserve duties should the judicial reform plan be passed. And it has been reported that senior military officers have themselves been expressing concerns over the ongoing situation to Gallant.
Opposition leaders Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid and State Camp Chairman Benny Gantz issued a joint statement overnight in response to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s firing of Yoav Gallant. In it, the two said, “State security cannot be a card in the political game. Netanyahu crossed a red line tonight.”
And President Isaac Herzog felt the need to once again issue a statement calling for a suspension of the legislative process for the judicial reform plan after Yoav Gallant’s firing saying, “For the sake of the unity of the People of Israel, for the sake of the necessary responsibility, I call on you to halt the legislative process immediately.”
Massive protests have rocked Israel over the past few months, ever since Justice Minister Yariv Levin revealed the government’s plans to alter the nature of Israel’s judicial system. The government’s judicial reform plan would greatly curtail the power of Israel’s Supreme Court to nullify legislation passed by the Knesset and also limit the authority of Israel’s attorney general. The opposition charges this would harm Israel’s democracy, eroding foreign confidence in the country and hurting its economy. And this is why the country is now on the brink of what some are describing as the biggest societal clash in Israel’s history.
As of now, Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to some time Monday address the nation to say he is suspending the judicial reform plan for now.