Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday dismissed Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, Netanyahu’s office announced.
Gallant has recently spoken out against Netanyahu’s highly-disputed plan to overhaul Israel’s judicial system, becoming the first member of the right-wing government to break ranks over the plan.
Gallant made the announcement on Saturday citing the turmoil in the ranks of the military over the plan. But it was unclear whether others would follow him.
The announcement comes as Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the prime minister earlier on Sunday to respond within a week to contempt of court accusations filed by the non-governmental organisation, Movement for Quality Government in Israel.
The NGO’s complaint alleges Netanyahu violated an agreement with the court that an accused prime minister does not have the right to act in a matter that could constitute a conflict of interest.
On Friday, Israel’s Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said the prime minister’s televised declaration “and all interventions on your part on the process” of adopting the judicial reforms “is illegal”.
The prime minister must “avoid any involvement in changes in the judicial system and particularly in the process of nominating judges, as this places you in a situation of conflict of interests,” Baharav-Miara argued in an open letter published by the justice ministry.
In May 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that an indicted prime minister has no right to act on a matter that could place him in a conflict of interest.
The NGO alleged Netanyahu violated “the conflict of interest agreement prepared by the government’s legal adviser”, in accordance with the Supreme Court verdict.
It called for a fine, imprisonment or other sentence appropriate for contempt cases.
Lawmakers are to vote this coming week on a central part of the government’s proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.
Tens of thousands of protesters have also taken to the streets, military and business leaders have spoken out against the judicial overhaul plan and leading allies of Israel have voiced concerns.
Israel’s New York consul-general resigns
Israel’s consul-general in New York said he was resigning in protest at Netanyahu’s firing of Gallant.
“I can no longer continue representing this Government,” Asaf Zamir said on Twitter.
“I believe it is my duty to ensure that Israel remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world.”
‘Mend the rift’
Netanyahu is barred by the country’s attorney general from directly dealing with his government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, based on a conflict of interest agreement he is bound to, and which the Supreme Court acknowledged in a ruling over Netanyahu’s fitness to serve while on trial for corruption. Instead, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a close confidant of Netanyahu, is spearheading the overhaul.
But on Thursday, after parliament passed a law making it harder to remove a sitting prime minister, Netanyahu said he was unshackled from the attorney general’s decision and vowed to wade into the crisis and “mend the rift” in the nation. That declaration prompted the attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, to warn that Netanyahu was breaking his conflict of interest agreement by entering the fray.
The fast-paced legal and political developments have catapulted Israel into uncharted territory and toward a burgeoning constitutional crisis, said Guy Lurie, a research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, a West Jerusalem think tank.
“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 different governing bodies,” he said.
If Netanyahu continues to intervene in the overhaul, Baharav-Miara could launch an investigation into whether he violated the conflict of interest agreement, which could lead to additional charges against him, Lurie said.
He added that the uncertainty of the events made him unsure of how they were likely to unfold.