Tens of thousands of Israelis have staged protests in cities across the country in a spontaneous outburst of anger after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly fired his defence minister for challenging the Israeli leader’s judicial overhaul plan.
Protesters in Tel Aviv blocked a main highway and lit large bonfires late Sunday night, while police scuffled with protesters who gathered outside Netanyahu’s private home in Jerusalem.
The unrest deepened a monthslong crisis over Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, which has sparked mass protests, alarmed business leaders and former security chiefs and drawn concern from the United States and other close allies.
Netanyahu’s dismissal of Defence Minister Yoav Gallant signalled that the prime minister and his allies would barrel ahead this week with the overhaul plan.
But as droves of protesters flooded the streets late into the night, Likud ministers began indicating a willingness to hit the brakes.
Culture Minister Micky Zohar, a Netanyahu confidant, said the party would support him if he decided to pause the judicial overhaul.
Israeli media said leaders in Netanyahu’s coalition were to meet on Monday morning. Later in the day, the grassroots protest movement said it would hold another mass demonstration outside the Knesset, or parliament, in Jerusalem.
Netanyahu decided to fire Gallant after Gallant urged the Israeli leader on Saturday to pause the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan.
Protests were also reported in Haifa, northern Israel and in the southern city of Beersheba.
Israeli police announced that they were increasing forces at all stations in the country following mass protests and arrests would be made in cases of “severe violence and vandalism.”
Shortly after Netanyahu fired Gallant, Israel’s Consul General to New York Asaf Zamir resigned, saying he opposed the government’s controversial judicial reform.
Meanwhile, all universities across Israel announced a strike starting Monday over the controversial judicial reform plan.
Protest leaders have also called for an emergency protest in Tel Aviv tonight after the sacking of Israel’s defence minister.
Israel has seen mass protests over the past 12 weeks against plans by the government for judicial reforms, which are seen by the opposition as a power grab in favour of the executive authority.
However, Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, claims that his plan would enhance democracy and restore the balance between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.