Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday night called for a temporary halt to the judicial reform program, saying the coalition’s legislative push threatens national security.
In a televised address, he warned that the societal divide on display across the country amid mass demonstrations against the government has found its way into the Israel Defense Forces as an increasing number of reservists are threatening to not show up for duty.
“The mission of my life is the security of Israel. I have risked my life dozens of times, and this time too I am prepared to take a risk and pay a price,” the member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party said.
“The threats are great—Iran is close to military nuclear capability, the northern front is not quiet, Palestinian terrorism is growing,” Gallant continued.
“In the past few weeks, something has happened. I am concerned by what I hear in the field. I have never encountered such powerful anger and pain as I see now. The IDF has been damaged. The split in society has penetrated the IDF and this is a clear, immediate and concrete danger to the security of the state. I will not lend a hand to this,” he said.
The minister received support for his stance from two other prominent Likud Party members—Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter and MK Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
“A majority of the nation wants change in the legal system and understands the need, but this must be done with patience, dialogue and broad discourse to reach broad consensus,” Edelstein said.
Gallant drew praise from opposition leader Yair Lapid, who called his stance “a courageous and vital step for the security of the State of Israel.” Statements of support also came from the Israel Business Forum and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, the left-wing group leading the mass protests against the judicial reforms.
Israeli media claimed that around 200,000 people again hit the streets of Tel Aviv on Saturday night to protest the government, with tens of thousands more across the country as part of weekly demonstrations.
However, other members of Netanyahu’s recently elected coalition criticized Gallant, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir calling for him to be fired.
“Gallant gave in tonight to blackmail and threats from all those anarchists who call for ‘resistance’ and use the IDF as a bargaining tool,” the Otzma Yehudit Party chief posted to his Twitter account.
“Gallant was elected by the votes of right-wing voters and in practice promotes a left-wing agenda. At the moment of truth he collapsed under the pressure of the media and the protesters. [I call] on the prime minister to [fire him] immediately,” Ben-Gvir continued.
Netanyahu, returning from a diplomatic visit to London, had yet to comment on Gallant’s speech.