Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday fired Defence Minister Yoav Galant, a day after he broke ranks to call for a pause in the government's controversial judicial reforms.

On a day when 200,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest the reforms, Galant - who had been a staunch Netanyahu ally - on Saturday said "we must stop the legislative process" for a month in view of its divisiveness.

The plans to hand more control to politicians and diminish the role of the Supreme Court have been questioned by Israel's top allies including the United States, while regularly igniting protests in Israel. 

"The growing social rift has made its way into the (army) and security agencies. It is a clear, immediate and tangible threat to Israel's security," said Galant, who is a member of Netanyahu's own right-wing Likud party.

"I am committed to Likud values... and placing the State of Israel above all... but major changes on the national level must be made through deliberations and dialogue," he said.

Netanyahu on Sunday decided to "dismiss Defense Minister Yoav Gallant", the prime minister's office said in a brief statement.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid had hailed Galant's comments as a "brave and vital step for Israel's security".

Galant called for the halt before lawmakers are due to vote this coming week on a central part of the government's proposals, which would change the way judges are appointed.

 Slim majority

Two other Likud lawmakers tweeted their support for Galant, raising questions over whether the government could count on a majority if it pushes ahead with a vote.

Galant is the first casualty but other high-level officials have also expressed reservations.

Earlier this month, President Isaac Herzog, who holds a largely ceremonial role, voiced concern over the deepening rift in society and presented a proposed compromise, which the government rejected.

"Anyone who thinks that a genuine civil war, with human lives, is a line that we could never reach, has no idea what they are talking about," Herzog cautioned.

Israel's attorney general on Friday accused Netanyahu of "illegal" public intervention on the reform programme after he made a nationwide TV address the previous evening.

Netanyahu is on trial over charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which he denies.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said the prime minister's televised declaration "and all interventions on your part on the process" of adopting the judicial reforms "is illegal".

The prime minister must "avoid any involvement in changes in the judicial system and particularly in the process of nominating judges, as this places you in a situation of conflict of interests," Baharav-Miara argued in an open letter published by the justice ministry.

In his address, the prime minister vowed to "responsibly advance" the reforms and "end the rift" they have caused in the nation.

Detractors see the reform project as threatening Israel's democracy, but the government argues changes are needed to rebalance powers between lawmakers and the judiciary.

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