Netanyahu Dismisses Defense Minister Gallant; Rioters Almost Reach PM’s House

By Matis Glenn

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a discussion and a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 22, 2023. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Sunday evening that he is dismissing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, following a sharp disagreement between the two over pausing the government’s judicial reform plans, as mobs of rioters breached security blockades and approached Netanyahu’s personal residence.

Gallant, of the Netanyahu-led Likud party, who had supported the government’s push to overhaul the judiciary, called for a pause in the proceedings, amid backlash from leftist groups in Israel, a firestorm of negative media coverage and threats from IDF reservists to not report for training.

On Motzoei Shabbos, Gallant said that “The breach within the nation has penetrated deep into the IDF and the defense establishment – this is a clear and major threat to the security of Israel … I will not allow this.”

Gallant had reportedly been expected to make such a statement last Thursday, but canceled the speech after a meeting with Netanyahu. But it appears that Gallant felt that Netanyahu had not done enough to calm the country’s tensions.

Officials in Netanyahu’s office said that the Prime Minister told Gallant that he had “lost confidence in him” after Gallant’s statements, which Netanyahu criticized as being made while in his absence, while away on a trip to the U.K. Netanyahu further accused Gallant of “sabotaging” the coalition’s efforts to reach a solution.

Riots broke out in Yerushalayim and Tel Aviv; some were violent, and rioters managed to bypass the police and Shin Bet checkpoints on Gaza Street, reaching within a few meters of Netanyahu’s personal residence. They were eventually forced to leave the immediate area.

The Horev junction, and Ayalon highway were blocked by protestors.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir went to the national police headquarters in Yerushalayim, where he made an assessment of the situation following the riots.

The heads of some of Israel’s research universities announced Sunday eveningthat classes will be shut down indefinitely starting Monday morning.

Gallant responded to his dismissal on social media, without mentioning it by name, saying “The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always remain the mission of my life.”

Gallant’s statements and the results of his ousting may have started a ripple effect. Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, who has staunchly defended the reforms and rebuffed critics, said Sunday night that he admits that the coalition has made mistakes and that further negotiation – and a redrawing of the reforms – is necessary, but he was careful to say that he will abide by the decision of Likud collectively. “We have to admit, honestly – we made a mistake in navigation,” he said. “We were wrong, not in identifying the burning need for reform, it is more essential than ever, but in the way it is carried out. He went on to say that Israel needs a “new roadmap” to present to the population, “to clearly express the decision of the people who went to the elections for the fifth time.”

But Chikli also said that he trusts the judgement of Netanyahu, and that the changes he wants to see are, continuing his navigation analogy, more about the way to get to the destination than the goal itself.

The news of Gallant’s firing was not unexpected; rumors had circulated Sunday that Gallant’s remarks would spell the end of his tenure. Reports indicate that Netanyahu might tap Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter to replace Gallant. Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief is also said to have supported a suspension of the overhaul push, but who vowed Sunday to support it.

The Prime Minister’s opponents seized the opportunity to blast him over the firing.

“State security cannot be a card in the political game. Netanyahu crossed a red line tonight,” Opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Union chairman Benny Gantz said in a joint statement. “We call on the ministers of the Likud, the members of the Knesset of the Likud, do not lend a hand to the crushing of national security. Whoever assumes the role of Minister of Defense will bring disgrace upon himself. The people’s eyes are on you with hope. You can still stop.’

But Netanyahu’s supporters were quick to defend the move. “The people want reform now,” Ben-Gvir said, according to Arutz Sheva. “Those who succumb to insubordination cannot remain in office, not even for a moment. Galant succumbed to pressure and also led a policy of containment and surrender in the face of terrorism. The Prime Minister has decided on the necessary step and I congratulate him on that.”

Information Minister Galit Distel Atbarian of the Likud said Gallant’s move was a “disaster.” “Galant did something that shouldn’t be done; leave the reform,” Distel Atbarian told Galei Israel. “What he did as defense minister to the State of Israel is a disaster. He turned the army into something different from what we knew. In my view, this is a dangerous strategic security decision, one that will undermine the army we have relied on.”

UTJ and Shas issued a statement in support of Netanyahu, dispelling rumors to the contrary. “We will support any decision made by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud. Any other publication on the matter is incorrect.”

General Consul Asaf Zamir, an Ambassador to Israel representing New York and other northeastern states, issued his resignation following Gallant’s termination, writing on social media that “The past 18 months as Israel’s Consul General in New York were fulfilling and rewarding, but following today’s developments, it is now time for me to join the fight for Israel’s future to ensure it remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world.”

Initially, the Constitution Committee – which oversees the judicial overhaul process – said it would not reconvene Sunday, and would advise later when it would again meet. Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman said later on that “the discussion in the committee will resume tomorrow at 8:00 in the morning during which the text of the final law will be voted on for the second and third reading.”

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