Gantz threatens coalition with demand for pension hike for career officers

Calling criticism of plan to increase benefits for IDF retirees ‘blood libels,’ defense minister also says politicians trying to torpedo his national service reforms

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's religions and Diaspora affairs correspondent.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Makor Rishon newspaper conference in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2022. (Shaul Ofer/Makor Rishon)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the Makor Rishon newspaper conference in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2022. (Shaul Ofer/Makor Rishon)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared to threaten to bring down the government unless his proposals to increase pensions for career officers and to reform the national service system are supported.

In a pugilistic speech Monday at the Makor Rishon newspaper’s conference, Gantz claimed critics of the pension hike were spreading “blood libels” against military officers.

“As someone who has voted with the coalition in favor of issues that I don’t agree with, I know that you need to give support to the minister responsible for the matter,” said Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces.

“In the previous government, with my presence and with my work I ensured Israeli democracy, and now I feel that sometimes I am forced to do the same thing for [Israeli] security. I have no intention of allowing this situation to continue,” he said.

Gantz’s speech confirmed reports on Channel 12 from the night before that he had met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid about the matter last week, telling them that if it were not resolved, his party would stop voting with the coalition.

In recent years, the IDF and the Defense Ministry have been engaged in an at-times bitter fight with the Finance Ministry over the issue of pensions for career officers. The military has demanded an increase in these retirement benefits, maintaining that they are necessary in order to ensure that capable people remain in the IDF instead of leaving the army for higher salaries in the civilian job market. However, in addition to being costly, the pensions are generally unpopular, as military officers are allowed to retire young, giving them the ability to launch lucrative second careers on top of their robust pension packages.

The fight, which has largely played out in the halls of the Knesset and in the pages of Israel’s financial newspapers, spilled into the public sphere in recent months as it grew yet more acrimonious, even being lampooned in a parody sketch last year on the popular comedy show “Eretz Nehederet.”

In addition to the fight for pensions, Gantz has been pushing for a major reform of the national service system in light of the fact that in recent years only half of the country’s crop of potential recruits perform military service. Under Gantz’s proposed system, everyone in the country — including the ultra-Orthodox and possibly Arabs — would be legally required to perform some kind of national service at the age of 18.

“There have been attempts to thwart the new service model, in which all segments of Israeli society will take part. This is a security threat… Also, the populist discourse regarding career officers is so full of lies it is tantamount to blood libels,” Gantz said.

“I intend to ensure that IDF soldiers and commanders receive the treatment that they deserve. This is an ethical fight for security, and I intend to change this bleak situation that we have come to, which harms IDF soldiers, career officers and reservists, and ultimately harms the State of Israel and its security,” the defense minister said.

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