Lapid: 'Stop placing the responsibility on others'

PM: IDF chief must crack down on insubordination, police on road-blocking protesters

Netanyahu denounces ‘violence from any side’ but doesn’t mention attacks on protesters; implicitly links anti-government rallies to Iranian nuclear program and Palestinian terror

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on March 19, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on March 19, 2023. (Abir Sultan/Pool/AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday railed at Israelis protesting his government’s plans to upend the judicial system, as well as at the heads of the IDF, police and Shin Bet, and urged increased intervention by security forces, as reserve soldiers opposed to the measures escalated their protests and mass demonstrations showed no signs of abating.

Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, Netanyahu implicitly linked opposition to the judicial shakeup — a stance that he dubbed “anarchy” — to Iran’s nuclear program and Palestinian terrorism, describing them as “our three fights.”

“We won’t accept anarchy,” he said after hundreds of thousands rallied nationwide Saturday night for the 11th straight week of protests.

Netanyahu called for security chiefs to take a tougher stance against the demonstrations, urging Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai to prevent protesters from blocking roads. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has long expressed fury that police are too restrained when dealing with the largely peaceful protesters.

Netanyahu also called for IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi to combat “insubordination,” after hundreds of elite reservists stopped volunteering Sunday morning to protest the overhaul.

“There is no place in the public discourse for refusing to serve,” he said, vowing not to tolerate “such phenomena.”

Netanyahu also called for the Shin Bet to crack down on alleged incitement against him and his allies.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaks at a military ceremony for reservist troops at Tel Aviv University, March 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Calling for a “true, matter-of-fact and fair debate” on judicial reform after last week rejecting an alternative framework championed by President Isaac Herzog, Netanyahu noted a planned meeting of coalition leaders in the evening to discuss unilateral changes to the shakeup plans.

“We will do this with discretion and responsibility, in a way that will safeguard the foundational rights of all Israeli citizens: secular and religious, women, LGBTQs, minorities, everyone without exception,” he said.

In his remarks, Netanyahu also rejected “violence from any side” but did not directly condemn a series of acts of violence recorded Saturday against protesters, including by supporters of his Likud party.

“We won’t accept violence from any side,” he said.

Police detain a right-wing activist who clashed with protesters at a rally against the goverment’s judicial overhaul bills in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023 (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

The comments were swiftly denounced by opposition leaders.

“Stop the legislation and the [army] chief of staff won’t need to fight insubordination, the Shin Bet head won’t need to fight incitement and the police commissioner can be made available for the fight on terror before Ramadan. It’s all in your hands; stop placing the responsibility on others,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid tweeted.

National Unity chief Benny Gantz, a former military chief, said the issue was not insubordination but Netanyahu’s refusal “to stop the civil war and talk, as part of your effort to spread anarchy in the judicial system.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, left and National Unity party chief Benny Gantz, right, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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 senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition expressed condemnation.

In late February, hundreds of reservists in the Special Operations Division issued an open letter 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 and helicopter pilots.

Israeli reserve soldiers, veterans and activists rally outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, protesting against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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, 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.

Emanuel Fabian contributed to this report.

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