Netanyahu rails at anti-overhaul reservists, in first appearance since hospital stay

Displaying no signs of ill health, PM says he’s feeling ‘excellent,’ decries growing threats by reserve troops to stop volunteering as ‘insubordination’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives to chair a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, arrives to chair a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday made his first public appearance since being hospitalized over the weekend, lobbing fresh broadsides against military reservists as they ramp up opposition to the judicial overhaul.

Netanyahu spoke at the start of the cabinet meeting, which was delayed for a day after doctors decided Saturday night to keep him in the hospital for overnight observation. The premier, who displayed no outward signs of ill health on Monday, was released a day earlier after undergoing a series of tests and being fitted with a subcutaneous heart monitor, with the hospital stressing his cardiac health was “completely normal.”

Regarding his health, Netanyahu told ministers he felt “excellent” and thanked well-wishers, without giving further details.

His hospitalization, which the Prime Minister’s Office and Sheba Medical Center have attributed to dehydration, came as increasing numbers of reservists warn they’ll stop showing up for volunteer duty to protest the government’s advancement of far-reaching plans to change the judiciary.

“Incitement to insubordination and insubordination itself are in opposition to democracy and the law,” said Netanyahu.

“This is true in any democracy, but in our democracy, incitement to insubordination and insubordination directly endanger the security of all Israeli citizens,” he continued. “It erodes deterrence against our enemies… and undermines discipline in the military.”

“There can’t be a group within the army that threatens the elected government ‘if you don’t do as we desire, we’ll flip the switch on [Israel’s] security,'” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg, Pool)

Netanyahu said no government could “accept such a dictate, and it is the destruction of democracy.”

“The government won’t accept insubordination [and] will act against it,” he said.

He also acknowledged that protesters had concerns “for the future of our country” but insisted Israel “always was and always will be a democracy,” pushing back against critics who warn the judicial shakeup will harm the country’s liberal character and undermine checks and balances.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Firing back at Netanyahu, the Brothers in Arms protest group later vowed to continue opposing the overhaul and urged Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to halt the legislation.

“The prime minister is beginning to internalize the magnitude of an event in which thousands of reservists won’t let him turn Israel into a dictatorship and eliminate the people’s army,” the statement said.

Appealing to Gallant, the reservists called on him “to stop the destruction of the Third Temple,” referring to the modern State of Israel.

“We swore to serve the kingdom and not the king,” they added.

Netanyahu’s remarks followed a meeting Gallant reportedly held with Israel Defense Forces chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and other top officers to discuss the possible fallout if military reservists — particularly pilots — stop volunteering.

According to leaks published by Hebrew media, Gallant and Halevi were considering speaking with Netanyahu in the next few days to relay the concerns over the potential negative impact on military readiness.

Many reservists — who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — have been warning in recent months they will not serve in what they charge will be an undemocratic Israel if the government’s overhaul plans are realized.

The calls to refuse to show up for reserve duty started roiling the military earlier this year as the judicial overhaul was first announced and as it advanced, growing in number even as they were condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition.

Reservists protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, outside the home of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in Moshav Amikam, on July 8, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)

The threats increased in recent weeks as the government resumed moving ahead in the Knesset with some elements of the plan, after largely pausing the legislation in March following pressure by reservists on Gallant.

Gallant in late March publicly warned that the rift over the overhaul was causing divides in the military that posed a tangible threat to Israeli security. In response to that warning, Netanyahu ordered Gallant’s firing, a move that sparked intensified national protests, in turn leading Netanyahu to temporarily suspend the legislation for three months and withdraw Gallant’s dismissal.

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