Benjamin Netanyahu sacks minister who opposed his controversial reform plans of Israel’s justice system

Israelis came out on to the streets of Tel Aviv in force again at the weekend to protest about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial overhaul. Photo: Oren Alon/Reuters

Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams, in Tel Aviv

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sacked his defence minister a day after he broke ranks and urged the government to halt a highly-contested plan to overhaul the judicial system. Yoav Gallant's dismissal is likely to fuel further mass protests against the plan – with unrest having rocked the nation for months. It came as Mr Netanyahu was poised to ratify legislation that would tighten political control over judicial appointments. That bill, and others that would limit Supreme Court powers to rule against government policy, have triggered warnings at home and abroad over Israel's democratic health. Mr Gallant on Saturday became the most senior member of Mr Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party to say he would not support the judicial overhaul, saying protests that have included growing numbers of military reservists were also affecting regular forces and undermining national security. "At this time, for the sake of our country, I am willing to take any risk and pay any price," Mr Gallant said in his televised address. The response from the prime minister came late last night. "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided this evening to dismiss Defence Minister Yoav Gallant," Mr Netanyahu's office said. Shortly after his dismissal, Mr Gallant (64) wrote on Twitter: "The state of Israel's security has always been and will always be my life's mission." Mr Netanyahu, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies, says the judicial overhaul will balance out the branches of government. Critics, who range from business leaders to former military officers as well as opposition parties, say the overhaul will weaken Israel's democracy, hurt the economy and hand uncontrolled powers to the government of the day. A key bill effectively giving Mr Netanyahu's religious-nationalist coalition more control over the appointment of judges is expected to be brought for ratification this week in the Knesset, where he and his allies wield 64 out of 120 seats. But how that as yet-unscheduled vote will proceed has been thrown into question by Likud dissenters. Earlier yesterday, an Israeli good governance group has urged the supreme court to punish Mr Netanyahu for allegedly violating a conflict of interest agreement meant to prevent him from dealing with the country’s judiciary while he is on trial for corruption.