Hundreds of elite reservist Israel Defense Forces soldiers halted their volunteer service on Sunday, making good on a threat issued several weeks ago in response to the government’s plans to radically alter the judicial system.
Organizers of the group, which said they include 450 officers and soldiers in the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division and 200 in cyber warfare units, announced on Thursday that they will stop showing up for volunteer duty, citing the government’s plans to hold the final Knesset votes on legislation that would severely limit courts or lawmakers from removing an unfit prime minister from office.
“We are stopping volunteering for reserve duty from today, and we will be happy to return to volunteer when democracy is safe,” Cpt. “Aleph” — who can only be identified by his rank and initial of his first name in Hebrew — told Kan public radio on Sunday morning.
Aleph, who serves in the Special Operations Division, called on other volunteer reservists to stop showing up for duty “until this attempted coup is over.”
“The difference between serving in Putin’s army and serving in the IDF is going to be erased,” Aleph said.
Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order from the IDF, soldiers in the Special Operations Division and cyber warfare units show up for duty more frequently and in a voluntary manner, often not during an emergency, due to the nature of their position.
Also Sunday, some 300 reservist soldiers and officers in the Israeli Air Force, including aircrews, drone operators, and air traffic control operators, said they would not show up for training this week.
In messages sent to their superiors, which were sent out to journalists, the reservists said they would devote most of their time this week to call for dialogue on the judicial overhaul and to “fight for democracy.”
Calls among IDF reservists to refuse to serve due to the government’s legislative efforts have roiled the military in recent weeks, growing in number even as they are condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition.
In late February, hundreds of reservists in the Special Operations Division issued an open letter first warning of plans to end their volunteer service if a broad compromise on the overhaul is not reached. And a week later, soldiers from cyber warfare units similarly warned they would stop volunteering for the reserves if the overhaul is approved.
Such letters and calls have been joined in recent weeks by reservists in virtually every branch of the military, including fighter jet pilots, undercover infantry officers, submariners, sailors, helicopter pilots and others.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said that reservists’ threats to refuse to serve if the government’s judicial overhaul is passed harm national security.
In a speech last week, military chief Herzi Halevi said “the IDF will not be able to act without the spirit of volunteering of the reservists and their willingness [to serve], which depends on the preservation of the IDF as the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.”
Opposition figures have said they sympathize with the sentiment behind the reservists’ calls, but they cannot support such moves.
“I am against refusal. I don’t think it’s the way. I understand the pain, the sorrow, the dread, and the fury. I think it’s a mistake. We have one army, and there must not be refusal,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said earlier this month.
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz — a former IDF chief and former defense minister — said recently that IDF reservists must “continue to serve, to show up no matter what, to protect this country with protests and to protect it with [military] forays… despite the pain.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.