Defense chief: Threats to refuse service over judicial shakeup harm Israel’s security

Minister Yoav Gallant rejects reserve troops’ protests against overhaul, slams use of IDF insignia by those who oppose government plans

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to troops of the reservist 363rd battalion at an army base in the West Bank, February 28, 2023. (Nicole Laskavi/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks to troops of the reservist 363rd battalion at an army base in the West Bank, February 28, 2023. (Nicole Laskavi/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday that reservists’ threats to refuse to serve if the government’s judicial overhaul is passed harm Israel’s security.

A growing number of reservists from numerous units have warned they will not serve if the coalition proceeds with its plans to shackle the justice system, which opponents say will leave Israel a weakened democracy and even a dictatorship.

Speaking to reservist troops in the West Bank, Gallant said that “any call for refusal harms Israel’s security.”

“No one is allowed to use a unit’s symbol, the IDF symbol, or the Israeli flag in order to justify one side. Under no circumstances are we to urge refusal, anywhere, in any sector, in any corps, and in any unit,” Gallant said in remarks provided by his office.

He said the threats against Israel including from “Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas, and other problems will remain with us even after the current problems are resolved.

“Therefore, the IDF should remain the people’s army, the army of all of us, united and able to carry out its tasks.”

Recalling protests following the Yom Kippur War in 1973 and the two Palestinian Intifadas (or uprisings), Gallant said: “In the face of all this, the army managed to remain united, to understand the magnitude of the task and the great responsibility assigned to it.

“In this aspect, the reserve army and the reserve forces have a decisive role,” he told the troops of the 363rd Battalion.

Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, protesting against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a recent meeting with the IDF’s top brass, military chief Herzi Halevi said he was aware of the controversy over the overhaul plans, but will not allow it to affect the army’s “ability to carry out its missions.”

On Monday, veterans of the Military Intelligence’s Unit 8200 joined a growing list of army reservists threatening to refuse to perform reserve service in protest of the government’s plans.

In a letter first published by the Walla news site, and addressed to key figures in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the veterans expressed their fears over the “integrity and security” of the country.

“We will not volunteer for a country that has unilaterally changed the basic social contract with its citizens,” the letter declared.

They joined groups of pilots, armored corpssubmariners, sailors, and special forces who have penned similar letters in recent weeks.

In a speech Thursday, Halevi called on reservist protesters to leave the army out of the controversy over the judicial overhaul.

“Two reservists can stand on both sides of the dispute… They will come to reserve duty, put on their uniforms, leave the controversy outside and go on a mission side by side, shoulder to shoulder,” Halevi said at a cadets graduation ceremony at the IDF officers school in southern Israel, known as Bahad 1.

IDF chief Herzi Halevi speaks at an IDF officers’ graduation ceremony at the Bahad 1 base in southern Israel, February 23, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Haaretz daily on Friday said there were “preliminary signs” of reservists already weighing refusing to show up for duty, especially among pilots and aircrews in the Israeli Air Force.

Netanyahu’s far-right coalition has prioritized the judicial proposals since being sworn in around two months ago, and they are being spearheaded by Justice Minister Yariv Levin.

The sweeping reforms, which are being pushed through the Knesset in recent weeks, include the government granting itself total control over the appointment of judges including to the High Court; all but eliminating the High Court’s ability to review and strike down legislation; and allowing politicians to appoint — and fire — their own legal advisers.

Critics say the plan will deeply undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin ahead of a vote on the government’s judicial overhaul plans, in the Knesset on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals and private companies.

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen rather than weaken democracy, and that his government is carrying out the will of the people.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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