Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has given a televised statement criticising anti-government protesters after the previous defence minister and senior opposition figure Benny Gantz warned that the country was heading for civil war.
The dramatic exchange happened after another day of demonstrations across Israel, some of which turned violent.
Anti-government protesters blocked streets and rallied outside the homes of key government ministers.
Police used tear gas to break up some of the protests and described it as “a sad day”.
“We cannot afford to descend into anarchy,” Mr Netanyahu told Israelis tonight. “The freedom to demonstrate is not a licence to degenerate the country into anarchy and chaos, because a sovereign country can’t stand chaos.”
Mr Netanyahu also accused protesters of “crossing red lines” and likened them to the Israeli settlers who rioted in the Palestinian town of Huwara on Sunday night.
“We won’t accept violence in Huwara, and we won’t accept violence in Tel Aviv,” he said. His statement made no mention of compromise.
Minutes before his statement, Benny Gantz called on Mr Netanyahu and the Knesset speaker to “immediately close the Knesset, stop all discussions and legislation in the committees and the plenary and arrive at the president’s residence tonight. What are you waiting for? It might end in blood.
“A civil war is coming, and the coalition is running towards it with its eye wide shut.”
The Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, has repeatedly tried to bring the various sides together and called for a pause in legislation while talks are held. The government has so far refused to engage on that.
Tonight, Mr Herzog released a statement urging calm.
“We are facing difficult and dangerous days, and things might take a turn for the worse,” he said. “Human rights, freedom of expression, a balance between authorities and the rule of law must be respected.”
Earlier, one of Mr Netanyahu’s senior ministers, Bezalel Smotrich, said that the West Bank town of Huwara should be “wiped out”, in comments that were criticised by the former prime minister Yair Lapid as “incitement to war crimes”, and potentially inflaming tensions.
Protests against the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary have been growing since the start of the year. The bill, which will give a simple majority in the Knesset the power to overrule the Supreme Court, passed its first reading this week.
Many Israelis have described it as a coup and hundreds of thousands are protesting every weekend.
Although today’s protests didn’t bring Israel to a shutdown, as was planned, they had largely remained peaceful until now.
Further protests are planned in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other cities this weekend.