Massive protests have erupted across Israel after the country’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defence minister, Yoav Gallant, who had spoken out against government’s plans to overhaul the justice system. The proposed changes would give ministers control over a committee that appoints judges. In Tel Aviv, protesters lit fires in the street and police retaliated with water cannon. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered across Israel, despite pandemic restrictions.
Protesters, who see the so-called “coup against democracy” orchestrated by Netanyahu and his allies as the latest in a series of power grabs, have called for the Prime Minister’s resignation. The government denies this and the leading parties have dismissed such allegations as political propaganda, but the country’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, has expressed concern about the proposed overhaul of the justice system, saying it would undermine the independence of the judiciary.
The situation has put a considerable amount of pressure on Netanyahu, who is currently facing trial in three separate corruption cases. He has denied all charges against him, but the ongoing trial has fueled calls for his resignation. The fact that he fired his defence minister in the middle of a pandemic has also been seen as a sign of instability and has led to further criticism of his leadership.
The protest gatherings come as Netanyahu struggles to hold his fragile 61-seat coalition together, following the resignation of his coalition partners, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Critics say the government cannot take further measures to tackle the outbreak of coronavirus while there is so much political instability. They are concerned that the pandemic will spread further and are calling for a stronger response from the government.
Protesters took to the streets in other parts of the country too, including in Jerusalem and Haifa. The police have responded to the unrest with force, which has led to further criticism of the government. It remains to be seen how the situation will develop in the coming days, but many observers are predicting further unrest if the government does not take action to address the concerns of its citizens. Earlier in the year, the country experienced the largest wave of mass protests in decades, primarily focused on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and Netanyahu’s corruption trial.