Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the government on Sunday night to put the brakes on the divisive judicial overhaul which has sparked months of protests across the country.
His comments came hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who had spoken out against the proposed reform. The move added fuel to the nationwide demonstrations, which were attended by over 600,000 people on Saturday, according to local media reports.
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During the latest protests, demonstrators completely blocked the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, while setting bonfires and chanting ‘democracy’. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd.
Clashes also erupted in Jerusalem as activists broke through the barriers and engaged the police outside Netanyahu’s private residence.
As the protests intensified, Herzog took to Twitter, addressing Netanyahu and the governing coalition. “For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I am calling on you to stop legislation immediately,” he wrote, adding that the protests are threatening Israel’s security, economy, and society.
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Former Israeli PM Naftali Bennett also weighed in, stating that the nation “is in greater danger than at any time since the Yom Kippur war,” referring to the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict. He urged Netanyahu to reverse the dismissal of the defense minister, freeze the judicial overhaul, and “enter a period of discussions.”
On Sunday, dozens of Israeli universities announced general strikes over the firing of Gallant. In a joint statement, the heads of the institutions said that studies would be suspended starting Monday morning “against the background of the continuation of the legislative process that undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy and endangers its continued existence.”
Massive protests have taken place across Israel since January, triggered by the plans of Netanyahu’s cabinet to limit the power of the Supreme Court to rule against the legislative and executive branches of government, while granting the governing coalition a majority on the committee that appoints judges.
Earlier this month, Netanyahu’s coalition watered down the proposed reform, decreasing the number of government representatives on the judicial committee. The move came after a phone call between the prime minister and US President Joe Biden, who expressed concern over the planned judicial overhaul, according to a senior US official.