Gallant presents billion-shekel plan to boost benefits for reserve soldiers

Defense minister unveils a slew of benefits amid low report rates for reservists, and following widespread threats to not serve in response to judicial overhaul efforts

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

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at a May 9, 2023 press conference. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant speaks at a May 9, 2023 press conference. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant unveiled on Sunday a billion shekel plan to boost benefits granted to soldiers who serve in the military reserves.

The plan will inject an additional NIS 200 million annually into the program and will now apply to all 130,000 soldiers actively serving in the reserves and not just the commanders, as was the case in a previous proposal.

The new plan will now move to a Knesset committee before passing to the government for final approval.

Among the new benefits slated for reservists is a bigger reduction on municipal property tax (Arnona) from 5% to 15%, and a 10% reduction on electricity bills.

Parents of children under age 16 who serve five or more days in the reserves when schools are on vacation will receive compensation of NIS 1,500 to cover summer camp costs.

All reservists who serve at least 14 days in a calendar year will be entitled to the benefits. Those serving in combat units will only need to reach 75% of that number.

Illustrative: IDF reserve soldiers take part in a drill at the Baf Lachish army base in southern Israel, December 22, 2016. (Maor Kinsbursky/Flash90)

A Defense Ministry department that aids discharged soldiers will see its annual budget double from NIS 16 million to NIS 32 million to enable a broader scope of activities. The Behatsdaa Club, as the department is called, has not had a budget increase since 2010.

“This morning we are making a historic decision for the reserve system,” Gallant said in remarks at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting. “The men and women of the reserves are a team that represents the people of Israel both during wars and in  between them, and for that we need to reward them accordingly.”

Gallant added that: “Our recognition as a country of those who serve and sacrifice more than themselves is the correction of a historical injustice,” saying the benefits would be increased 15-fold. “Reservists are a unique asset and play a decisive role in our security strategy and the ability of the IDF to fulfill its mission.”

Israeli reserve soldiers and activists protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Bnei Brak, March 16, 2023. (Flash90)

Channel 13 reported that recently only about 50% of reserve soldiers have been turning up for duty, a trend that began long before the dispute over the government’s planned drastic judicial overhaul.

Refusal to report for reserve duty was a key tactic in protesting the legislation. Dozens of letters signed by members of various reserve units were published, threatening to discontinue their service if the overhaul efforts proceed.

After calling in March to pause the overhaul due to its negative effects on national security, Gallant was fired from his position, instigating spontaneous protests throughout the country that led to the current legislative freeze. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, never officially served Gallant with notice of his firing, and he backtracked on the decision a few weeks later, keeping the defense minister in his role.

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