Israel’s defence chief will call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt his disputed judicial overhaul, Israeli media reported, in a move that could herald a split in the right-wing government as nationwide protests ramped up on Thursday.
Tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets, intensifying a months-long campaign decrying the proposed overhaul. Police trying to clear a highway in Tel Aviv fired a water cannon and carried some protesters away.
Netanyahu summoned Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, their Likud party said in a statement after Israeli broadcasters said Gallant would urge a halt to the judicial plan in a news conference due at 7:30 p.m. (1730 GMT).
The party did no elaborate on the reason for the summons.
Spokespeople for Gallant, a former head of an elite naval commando unit and a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, could not immediately be reached to confirm the reports.
Separately, Netanyahu’s office said the prime minister would deliver televised remarks at 8 p.m. (1800GMT), without elaborating.
Gallant has previously voiced worries about a wave of Israelis who have pledged not to heed call-ups for military reserve duty if the reforms – which protesters describe as a bid to subordinate the judiciary to the legislature – proceed.
Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies – says the overhaul is meant to restore balance among branches of government.
The plan has stirred concern for Israel’s democratic health at home and abroad. Senior officials in the Finance Ministry warned this week of an economic backlash.
The shekel, shaken by almost three months of unprecedented furore over the religious-nationalist coalition’s bid to curb some Supreme Court powers, surged 2.3% against the dollar on the reports of a statement by Gallant.
Protesters blocked roads, heckled a cabinet minister and unfurled a massive replica of the country’s Declaration of Independence on the walls of the Jerusalem’s Old City.
A small group burned tires in the street outside Ashdod seaport, briefly blocking trucks.
Dozens of protesters were arrested for public disturbance, police said.
“What we are doing here is we are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our lives as a Jewish people together in the state that we have been building for 75 years,” said Avidan Friedman, who was wearing a Jewish prayer shawl over his head.
“We are fighting because we feel like what’s going on now is tearing us apart and we are calling on the government to stop.”
Netanyahu has pushed ahead with the legislation, which includes bills to give the government decisive sway in electing judges and to limit the court’s power to strike down laws. On Thursday a law was ratified limiting the circumstances in which a prime minister can be removed.