Senior military leaders are said set to meet Monday morning to discuss developments surrounding the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday, a day after the defense minister called to pause the government’s judicial overhaul legislation citing the growing rift in Israeli society and the threats to the country’s security.
IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi will convene the Forum of the Israeli General Staff made up of generals and commanders, as well as civilian members like the director-general of the Defense Ministry, Kan reported early Monday.
The forum members will discuss the security implications of Gallant’s expected removal as defense minister, a move that prompted spontaneous mass protests across the country Sunday night that also stretched into the early hours of Monday morning with protesters setting bonfires, blocking roads in Tel Aviv, and marching to the Knesset and the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Gallant has yet to receive an official letter terminating his tenure as defense minister, officials close to him told Hebrew-language media early Monday.
The protests lasted for nearly five hours after the Prime Minister’s Office, in a brief statement, said Netanyahu had decided to transfer Gallant from his post. It was unclear what other position he would be given, if any, and when the dismissal would take effect.
The Defense Ministry said late Sunday that Director-General Eyal Zamir, who was in the United States for a series of meetings with American officials, would be cutting his trip short and return to Israel.
Responding to his ouster, Gallant tweeted, “The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always remain my life’s mission,” while opposition leader Yair Lapid said the move proved Netanyahu is a “danger” to Israel.
The prime minister and Gallant reportedly had not spoken since Thursday when Netanyahu summoned Gallant to his office in Jerusalem after the defense minister was set to give a televised speech explaining his opposition to the government’s judicial revolution push in its current format.
Instead, Netanyahu appeared on TV screens nationwide Thursday night, vowing to press ahead with core legislation that will bring most judicial appointments under political control.
A statement attributed to sources close to the prime minister on Sunday said Netanyahu had decided to fire Gallant over the “feeble and weak response against the refusals in the IDF.”
In a tweet later Sunday, Netanyahu said: “We must all stand up strongly against refusals.”
Increasingly, reservists — who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — have warned that they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which they charge the country will become under the government’s plan.
Soldiers have expressed concern that a lack of international trust in the independence of Israel’s judiciary could expose them to prosecution in international tribunals over actions they were ordered to carry out during service.
Earlier Sunday, the PMO denied reports that Netanyahu had rejected a request by Gallant to convene the security cabinet for discussions on the security implications of the judicial overhaul, saying no such request was ever made.
On Saturday night, Gallant joined those urging that the judicial overhaul legislative process be suspended, a first major sign of dissent from within the ruling coalition.
“I see the source of our strength eroding,” Gallant warned in a televised speech. “The growing rift in our society is penetrating the IDF and security agencies. This poses a clear, immediate, and tangible threat to the security of the state. I will not lend my hand to this.”
“For the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters, the legislative process should be stopped now, to enable the nation of Israel to celebrate Passover and Independence Day together, and to mourn together on Memorial Day and Holocaust Remembrance Day,” he said.
On Sunday night, as protesters broke out across the country, calls from within the coalition for a freeze to the legislation began to grow.
Netanyahu led hours of “security and legal discussions” at the Prime Minister’s Office in the early hours of Monday, amid reports he was considering a move to pause the overhaul push.
Coalition party heads were set to meet at 9 a.m. Monday at the Prime Minister’s Office to discuss developments.
Late Sunday, the Knesset’s Constitution Committee finalized core legislation that will give the coalition near-complete control of choosing Israel’s judges. Committee chairman Simcha Rothman announced that discussion in the committee would resume at 8:00 a.m. Monday, with the bill scheduled to be presented for its final readings in the Knesset plenum Monday night.
Also Sunday, a separate Knesset committee finalized legislation, ahead of its final Knesset readings, that would bar the High Court from preventing ministerial appointments, enabling Shas leader Aryeh Deri to return to the cabinet.