Gallant slams 'contemptible video that won’t achieve its goal'

IDF pans viral staged clip of pilot refusing to aid pro-overhaul ground troops

Military spokesman says video shared by ministers creates ‘internal incitement,’ aims to pit soldiers against one another; Miki Zohar deletes post, while Itamar Ben Gvir refuses

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

Screenshot from a video shared July 20, 2023, on coalition members' social media. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Screenshot from a video shared July 20, 2023, on coalition members' social media. (Courtesy; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

The IDF on Thursday slammed a video circulated online, including by ministers, depicting Israeli Air Force pilots refusing to help ground troops attacked by enemy forces due to the formers’ perceived support for the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.

In a statement, military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the video aims to cause “internal incitement” within the Israel Defense Forces, and should be condemned.

The staged video, which was reposted by both Culture Minister Miki Zohar and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, shows ground forces fighting in a war and asking for aerial support.

In response, pilots in the video asked if the ground forces support the controversial judicial overhaul or not, before explosions are seen. The video ends with a dying soldier saying: “My brothers, from right and left, don’t put politics in the army.”

Hagari said that the IDF “completely rejects all statements against the commanders and fighters of the standing and reserve Air Force. These are the best fighters and commanders in the IDF, who risk their lives night after night.”

“The camaraderie and risking one’s life occur in every operational activity between the aerial fighters and the ground troops, who act as one army for the security of the State of Israel,” he added.

Zohar then deleted his post — which had racked up more than 45,000 views — tweeting that he came across “a clip that tried to convey a unifying message in a thoughtful way” and shared it “to echo the message that we are brothers.”

“Unfortunately, a media outlet decided to take it out of context and present it as offensive toward some corps. This obviously wasn’t the goal and therefore I’ve deleted [the video],” Zohar added.

Ben Gvir — who never served in the army after being rejected due to his extremist activity in his youth — refused to delete his Facebook post, which had also racked up some 45,000 views.

“I don’t intend to delete the video, which clearly illustrates the danger of refusal. The video in question is intended to illustrate the tangible damage that exists in the attempt of elements that are a tiny minority to refuse [to show up for duty] and incite refusal,” the far-right minister said in a statement.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The video was credited as produced by a man named Daniel Edri. There was no further information regarding the production.

Later Thursday, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant condemned the clip, saying that “the viral video is a contemptible video that won’t achieve its goal.”

“The IDF is an army that keeps our enemies far away but brings the nation’s sectors closer together. Even if I don’t agree with a soldier or an officer, I repeat — they are our soldier,” he added.

Protests against the judicial overhaul have roiled the IDF for months, with hundreds of military reservists having announced in recent days they will no longer volunteer to carry out their specialized duties — among them air force pilots — if the government advances its plans.

The threats have ramped up as the government pushes a bill restricting the use of the so-called “reasonableness” judicial test, part of its controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Most Israelis who complete their mandatory military national service are required to attend annual reserve duty, but those who served in special units — including pilots — are expected to volunteer to continue carrying out the same duties while in the reserves, a commitment they usually take upon themselves. Due to the nature of their positions, special forces and pilots in reserves show up more frequently for training and missions.

Many reservists have been warning in recent months they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which some charge the country will become if the government’s overhaul plans are realized.

Israeli military reservists sign a declaration of refusal to report for duty to protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, July 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

Defense officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle have warned that the mass refusals could make Israel more vulnerable to outside threats.

The military has said that it would discipline or potentially dismiss active-duty soldiers who refuse to show up for duty when ordered to, but stressed that no action would be taken against reservists who only threaten not to show up.

It is unclear what measures would be taken against reservists who do not show up for voluntary duty. The IDF said it would handle each case individually, including possible suspension, dismissal, or jail sentences.

The second and third readings on the reasonableness bill, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, will begin on Sunday in the Knesset plenum, and the bill is expected to be approved and passed into law on Monday or Tuesday.

The bill would ban the Supreme Court and lower courts from using the reasonableness standard to review decisions made by the government and cabinet ministers.

Proponents say the bar on the use of the doctrine is needed to halt judicial interference in government decisions, arguing that it amounts to unelected judges substituting their own judgment for that of elected officials.

Opponents argue, however, that it will weaken the court’s ability to review decisions that harm civil rights, and hinder its ability to protect senior civil servants who hold sensitive positions such as the attorney general, police commissioner and others, from dismissal on improper grounds.

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