Lapid opposes reservists’ threats to refuse service, says he understands their fears

Opposition leader charges ministers Ben Gvir and Smotrich could use military’s hacking capabilities without any legal restraint if judicial overhaul is enacted

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a rally against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in the central city of Herzliya, March 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks at a rally against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in the central city of Herzliya, March 4, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Saturday said he opposed military reservists’ threats to refuse to serve if the government’s judicial overhaul is passed.

In an interview with Channel 12, Lapid acknowledged that while he believed the veterans’ concerns were justified, he was against calls to refuse reserve duty because the nation needs to protect itself against enemies.

To highlight those concerns, the Yesh Atid chair gave the example of the army’s cyber unit, “which within a second, could break into the phones lying on this table, and emails, and photos, whatever you want.”

“And they say to themselves, in a country where there is no legal oversight over [National Security Minister Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Finance Minister Bezalel] Smotrich, would they use this if they could? Of course they would,” Lapid said, referencing the far-right members of the coalition.

“This is what will happen, if this thing, called a ‘reform,’ which isn’t a reform, passes,” he added.

A growing number of reservists from various units have warned they will not serve if the coalition proceeds with its plans to shackle the justice system, which opponents say will leave Israel a weakened democracy or even a dictatorship.

Reservists block Route 1 to protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul, March 1, 2023 (Courtesy/Brothers in Arms)

Last week, veterans of the Military Intelligence’s Unit 8200 joined the growing list of reservists including pilots, armored corps, submariners, sailors, and special forces who have penned similar letters opposing the proposals.

Dozens of senior pilots held an unprecedented meeting Friday with IAF chief Tomer Bar in which they reportedly expressed major concerns about their continued service in the reserves, after Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call for the state to “wipe out” a Palestinian town along with the government’s plan to radically restrict the power of the country’s judiciary.

Last week, National Unity MK Gadi Eisenkot, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, told 103 FM radio he was also against the threats to refuse service, but understood “their pain.”

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who chairs the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, told Channel 12 on Saturday that senior security officials are concerned over the calls to refuse service.

“They are worried about the rift in the nation — the division, and the calls for refusal,” he said.

Last week, Defense Minsiter Yoav Gallant said that “any call for refusal harms Israel’s security,” while speaking to reservist troops in the West Bank.

The Netanyahu coalition is pushing a dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact 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.

Israelis march against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, March 4, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

The proposals have generated intense opposition from numerous quarters of society and led to steadily intensifying mass demonstrations in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and other major cities.

On Saturday night, some 160,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv and tens of thousands rallied elsewhere against the proposals.

Supporters of the overhaul say the changes will end overreach by courts and judicial institutions, which have blocked right-wing efforts to pass measures seen as violating rights enshrined in Israel’s Basic Laws.

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