IDF chief Herzi Halevi vowed on Thursday to keep political discourse out of the military, amid ongoing protests by reservist troops against the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system.
“Two reservists can stand on both sides of the dispute… They will come to reserve duty, put on their uniforms, leave the controversy outside and go on a mission side by side, shoulder to shoulder,” Halevi said at a cadets graduation ceremony at the Israel Defense Forces’ officers school in southern Israel, known as Bahad 1.
Halevi said that when reservist soldiers are not in active service, they “can enjoy all their rights,” but that “this separation is the only way to maintain a much-needed reserve army.”
Active duty soldiers are generally prohibited from political activity during their service, a directive that does not apply to reservists who may serve a few days or weeks per year.
Earlier this month, several thousand military reservists and IDF veterans rallied outside the Supreme Court building in Jerusalem at the culmination of a three-day march from Latrun — a memorial site for fallen soldiers of Israel’s Armored Corps — to protest the government’s judicial plans.
Some protesters have threatened not to show up for reserve duty if the government moves ahead with its overhaul of the judicial system.
Responding to Halevi’s remarks, the reservist protest group, known as Brothers in Arms, called on the chief of staff to support their movement.
“The government is tearing society apart, and you need to join us in the same call. This isn’t a reform and not a judicial overhaul, it’s a judicial coup that harms state security,” the group said. “We served the country for many years, in difficult times, we left our families and came to fight. We lost too much to allow the country to become a dictatorship,” they added.
Halevi told the graduating cadets that “these days, controversy is shaking Israeli society. The IDF is a unique meeting point of the army and society, and therefore the controversy also affects its servicepeople.”
“IDF soldiers and officers do not serve in distant countries. They protect the home, [and they serve] near home. They go back and forth from home, and the discussion at home is lively,” he continued. “Just as we preserved this uniqueness throughout the years of the IDF’s existence as the people’s army, we can do so today as well,” Halevi vowed.
Halevi said the IDF would be attentive to soldiers discussing the political dispute, “not in order to take sides, but to leave it out and keep the IDF united around its complex tasks.”
Also speaking at the graduation ceremony, President Isaac Herzog said the IDF “must remain above all controversy.”
Herzog said the IDF was a “glue that connects all parts of society, and at the same time also conveys an unequivocal message to our enemies: Even in a time of shaky discord, Israeli unity cannot be broken.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition has prioritized the proposals since being sworn in less than two months ago. Critics say the plan will deeply undermine Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.
The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals and private companies.
Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen rather than weaken democracy, and that his government is carrying out the will of the people.
Members of Netanyahu’s coalition have also vowed to pass other controversial bills, some of which relate to the military.