Gallant reportedly says judicial overhaul may push him out as defense minister

Amid reports of growing wave of reservists’ refusal to serve, he warns in speech to officers that ‘widespread insubordination may harm the IDF’s ability to carry out its missions’

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seen during a tour near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant seen during a tour near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has reportedly threatened to resign his post over concerns around the government’s relentless push to radically overhaul the judiciary.

In a speech Monday to officers including IDF chief Herzi Halevy, moreover, Gallant denounced a wave of insubordination in the military, sparked in large part by the coalition’s moves to constrain the judiciary, saying it threatened the security of the state. “The phenomenon of widespread insubordination may harm the IDF’s ability to carry out its missions,” the defense minister warned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shared Gallant’s privately expressed concerns with the cabinet on Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports, a move that may have been designed to increase pressure on coalition members driving the effort forward to soften some of their plans. Justice Minister Yariv Levin of Likud and MK Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionism party, who heads the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, have been heading the efforts to revamp the judiciary and exert political controls over some key functions.

According to the reports, which bore the hallmarks of a coordinated “leak” to political correspondents, Gallant approached Netanyahu over the past few weeks with concerns over how the overhaul push was affecting the military, with fears that it could be beset by mass desertions and refusals to serve.

A spokesman for Likud denied the reports, which came as members of the party were came together to decide on changes to legislation giving the government greater control over judicial appointments through a selection committee. The changes, presented as a “softening” but rejected by the opposition as deceptive, are ostensibly meant to address widespread concerns that the bill as initially formulated would have given the coalition carte blanche to pack the courts with amenable ideologues.

The Defense Ministry refused to comment on the reports.

Military brass has insisted that the armed services will remain outside any political brawl, but a number of reserve soldiers, including almost an entire fighter jet squadron, signed letters refusing to show up for duty, in protest of the overhaul.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a cabinet meeting, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on March 19, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash90)

In addition, soldiers have expressed concerns that a lack of faith in the independence of Israel’s judiciary could open them up to prosecution in international tribunals over actions they were ordered to carry out in the Israel Defense Forces.

While legally forbidden from weighing in on the matter, Netanyahu has reportedly pressed allies to tone down the judicial shakeup, which would grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, severely limit the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation, and enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does manage to annul with a bare majority of just 61 MKs.

Netanyahu is barred from directly dealing with the dramatic revamp, under the 2020 conflict of interest arrangement, as it could affect the outcome of his ongoing corruption trial down the line. The premier has tried to wiggle out of the deal, but has so far been rebuffed by the attorney general.

While boosters say the judicial overhaul will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the moves will remove essential checks on executive and legislative power, putting Israeli democracy in peril.

A defense source surmised that Netanyahu’s conveyance of Gallant’s threat was meant to pile pressure on Levin to partially back off the plan, or to give him public justification for doing so.

Defense Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi seen during a tour on near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Protests against the overhaul have overtaken the country in recent weeks, with hundreds of thousands packing the streets to demonstrate against the government.

In his speech Monday, Gallant, a former senior IDF general, said: “Calls for insubordination are dangerous and the phenomenon of widespread insubordination may harm the IDF’s ability to carry out its missions.”

“I’m working to keep the military above any political dispute and to remove any instance of insubordination,” he said. “The IDF is the state’s defensive mechanism. Without it, the state and its citizens cannot exist. Insubordination erodes our basic foundation — security. Calls for insubordination or joining [refusals] endanger all of us, especially given the threats all around.”

According to a Channel 12 news report later Monday, Gallant warned Netanyahu in recent talks that if the judicial overhaul is not softened, “the IDF will fall apart” and he would “have to act accordingly,” apparently a reference to resigning.

Gallant reportedly told Netanyahu that refusal to serve was growing and the military could reach the stage in which it cannot function. He urged the premier to listen to reservists who are concerned about the overhaul.

The network reported on alleged “quiet refusal” growing within the ranks of the army, with many reservists failing to show up for duty in recent weeks.

In one training session last week of a top unit in the Paratroopers Brigade, several companies saw only 30 percent of reservists show up, and a few of those who did arrive later announced they could not serve.

The report said IDF personnel involved in calling up reservists have increasingly been told by individuals that they will not show up due to conscientious objections over the judicial overhaul.

The IDF has refused to comment on the details of the report.

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