Massive crowds filled the streets of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv late Sunday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister over his opposition to a planned judicial overhaul.
Waving Israeli flags and chanting “democratia,” protestors could be seen blocking streets and bridges, including the Ayalon Highway.
Protesters lit several fires on the main highway in Tel Aviv, their acrid, black smoke billowing into the sky, partly obscuring some of the city’s iconic skyscrapers. By around 2 a.m. local time in Tel Aviv, protests had thinned out but live pictures from the scene showed security forces firing water cannons on those still gathered.
Israel’s political crisis deepened on Sunday when Netanyahu’s office announced the removal of Yoav Gallant in a one-line statement, after he became the first member of the cabinet to call for a pause to controversial plans to overhaul the country’s court system.
“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to remove Defense Minister Yoav Gallant from his post,” the statement read.
Gallant argued for a halt to the judicial reforms in a speech Saturday night, when Netanyahu was out of the country on an official visit to the United Kingdom. Some military reservists have pledged to pull out of their service in opposition to the plans, which critics say would undermine the independence of the judiciary. Gallant said pressing ahead with the proposals could threaten Israel’s security.
His ouster and the mass protests that followed prompted a string of prominent officials to call for a halt to the judicial reform process.
In a Facebook post on Monday, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu and his government to immediately pause the plans, saying “the eyes of the whole world are on you.”
“Deep concern hovers over the entire nation. Security, economy, society — everyone is threatened,” Herzog said in the statement.
“The eyes of all the people of Israel are on you. The eyes of all the Jewish people are on you. The eyes of the whole world are on you. For the sake of the unity of Israelis, for the sake of committed responsibility I call on you to halt the legislative procedure immediately.”
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 — all members of Netanyahu’s Likud party — also suggested that Netanyahu should stop the legislation.
Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, suggested Netanyahu should “stop and recalculate” his overhaul plan, warning it has brought the country to the brink of civil war.
“The reform is necessary and we will do it — but not at the cost of a civil war,” he said.