Israelis carry the national flag during a protest march for democracy and against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial reforms on Thursday. Photo by Debbie Hill/ UPI | License Photo
March 26 (UPI) -- Mass protests erupted Sunday night across Israel after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who had called for the pausing of the far-right government's controversial judicial reform law.
The office of the prime minister confirmed the dismissal in a press release on Sunday, sparking thousands to take to the streets that night.
Protesters blocked highways in Tel Aviv and demonstrated outside of Israel's Knesset parliament and Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence where they clashed with police, local Haaretz reported.
Israel Police has warned in a statement that they will allow the right to protest but "we will not allow violations of order, damage to government symbols, damage to infrastructure and police."
Gallant's firing follows weeks of protests over the government's reform plan that would hand the power to make judicial appointments over to the ruling far-right coalition government of Netanyahu. The Knesset has a vote on a portion of the reform bill planned for Wednesday.
Gallant voiced his opposition to reform in a speech on Saturday night, saying that it threatens the security of Israel.
"For the sake of Israel's security, for the sake of our sons and daughters: at this time, we must stop the legislative process and reach out for negotiations," Gallant said in a tweet on Saturday. "We need to stop the demonstrations and protests -- and reach out for dialogue."
Gallant is but one of several government figures to express reservations over the reform plan, which would weaken the power of Israel's judicial system up to its Supreme Court. Opposition party leader Yair Lapid has said parliament should pause its schedule to discuss the changes more thoroughly. President Isaac Herzog has called the bill "oppressive."
And Asaf Zamir, the consul general of Israel in New York, resigned Sunday night, saying it was time for him to rejoin the fight for his country's future.
"This is a pivotal moment in Israel's history," he said in a statement. "My decision to resign should not be seen as a rejection of Israel or its people. On the contrary, I am taking this step because of my deep love for my country. As a proud Israeli citizen, I believe it is my duty to ensure that Israel remains a beacon of democracy and freedom in the world."
Following his firing Sunday, Gallant tweeted: "The security of the State of Israel has always been and will always remain the mission of my life."
Opposition to the judicial reform plan has spilled beyond government officials. Members of the military have threatened to abandon their posts while all Israeli universities but one reportedly announced plans to strike.
In his speech Saturday, Gallant warned that more Israeli Defense Force officials may protest if the bill is pushed through, according to Axios.
"The prime minister told Gallant that he lost confidence in him. Gallant didn't coordinate his speech with the Prime Minister and sabotaged the efforts to reach a solution," an aide to Netanyahu told Axios.
At the White House, National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the Biden administration is "deeply concerned" about recent developments in the Middle Eastern country that underscores "the urgent need for compromise."
"Democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship," she said in a statement. "We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible."