Diaspora minister: Reservist protesters are ‘a gift to Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah’

Chikli makes comment day after PM tells Likud MKs to oppose troops refusing to serve in protest of judicial overhaul, but ‘calm tensions, not inflame them’

Likud MK Amichai Chikli speaks at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud MK Amichai Chikli speaks at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli said Wednesday that reservist soldiers who refuse to show up for duty to protest the judicial overhaul were handing a prize to Iranian and Palestinian terror groups.

“This harms the security of the state and its capacity for deterrence. It is a gift to Israel’s enemies — Hamas, Iran and Hezbollah,” Chikli told the Ynet news site.

“The protests are being held with threats — either stop [the legislative blitz] for 60 days or there will be a civil uprising,” Chikli claimed.

Protest organizers have long called for a halt to the legislation of the controversial overhaul in order to enable dialogue. Justice Minister Yariv Levin has said that he will neither halt the legislative process, nor compromise on the core of the legislation.

“They encourage refusal [of military service] and encourage people to withdraw their investments — this is tantamount to burning down this house on its occupants,” Chikli said, hours after tech unicorn Riskified said it would be transferring $500 million out of Israel and offering relocation opportunities and support to staff.

The comments by Chikli, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, came a day after the premier warned lawmakers from his Likud party against disparaging reservist soldiers who have refused to serve in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul.

Critics say the government’s plans to curb the judiciary will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected.

“Refusals are a dangerous phenomenon that needs to be firmly opposed, but when we do, even in the heat of the moment, it must be done within the limits of the discourse,” Netanyahu said at a meeting with Likud lawmakers.

“Our goal is to try to calm tensions and not inflame them, and this applies to everyone without exception,” Netanyahu said, according to Hebrew media reports.

Also Tuesday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant of Likud leveled barely-veiled criticism at fellow members of the government who spoke out against the protesting reservist soldiers.

Both statements appeared to be referring to comments made this week by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Information Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, both of Likud.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, left, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Karhi wrote in a social media post marking the Purim holiday that those who refuse to show up for IDF reserve duty in protest of the judicial plan can “go to hell.”

Atbaryan said on Twitter that “there were soldiers here who took the bones of their brothers out of the grave and did not refuse an order,” a reference to military rabbis who dug up bodies to be shifted from Israeli settlements in Gaza during the 2005 disengagement.

The wave of protests by reservists ratcheted up Sunday as 37 out of 40 fighter jet pilots from a key squadron announced they would refuse to take part in a training exercise due to the overhaul and a rise in West Bank settler violence. The pilots said Tuesday they would show up to base as ordered, but only for discussions, and not training.

In another high-profile incident on Friday, dozens of senior pilots in the Israeli Air Force held an unprecedented meeting with IAF head Tomer Bar in which they reportedly expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves, after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call for the state to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara, along with the government’s plan to radically restrict the power of the country’s judiciary.

Military, government and opposition leaders have decried the protests by soldiers, saying the army should be kept free of politics and warning that mass insubordination will harm national security.

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