Netanyahu fires defense chief, causes mass protests

Image courtesy of MGN

3/27/23 by Colette Lauture 

Tens of thousands of Israelis swarmed the streets of cities across the country Sunday night in a sudden outburst of anger. The protests stem from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unexpectedly firing his defense minister, due to his challenging of Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul plan.

The monthslong crisis surrounding Netanyahu’s plan has deepened after Sunday’s unrest. It has also given rise to mass protests, alarmed business leaders and former security chiefs, and drawn concern from the United States and other close allies. 

The prime minister’s dismissal of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant indicated that he and his allies will push ahead this week with the overhaul plan. Having been the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against it, Gallant said the deep divisions were threatening to weaken Israel’s military. However, as protesters flooded the streets late into the night, Likud ministers started hinting at willingness to pause the overhaul. Culture Minister Micky Zohar, Netanyahu’s confidant, said the party would support him if he decided to hit the brakes.

Protesters in Tel Aviv blocked the Ayalon highway, a main artery in Israel, and lit large bonfires as police struggled to control the sea of blue and white Israeli flags. Other demonstrations took place in Beersheba, Haifa, and Jerusalem, where thousands gathered outside of Netanyahu’s private residence. Police sprayed protesters with a water cannon, which led to the crowd marching from the residence to the Knesset, or parliament.

Netanyahu’s decision came less than a day after Gallant, a former senior general, advocated for a pause in the contentious legislation until after next month’s Independence Day holidays. Following a brief statement from Netanyahu’s office that Gallant had been fired, the prime minister tweeted that “We must all stand strong against refusal.”

Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Bet security agency, is set to replace Gallant. He had reportedly flirted with the idea of joining Gallant, but instead announced his backing of Netanyahu Sunday.

Israel has catapulted itself into uncharted territory as a result of the country’s quick legal and political developments, according to research fellow Guy Lurie. 

Lurie, who works at the Israel Democracy Institute, added that “We are at the start of a constitutional crisis in the sense that there is a disagreement over the source of authority and legitimacy of governing bodies.”