Hundreds of reservists signed a declaration near military headquarters in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, announcing that they would no longer show up for volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government advancing its plans to overhaul the judiciary.
Also on Wednesday, some 300 reservists in the IDF’s Medical Corps announced that they were suspending their voluntary reserve duty in protest of the judicial overhaul, a day after 161 officers in the air force reserves also said they would no longer volunteer.
The announcements were the latest to send shockwaves through the military, which is struggling to stem a growing flood of reserve troops dropping out of volunteer duty to protest the overhaul, as defense officials warned the growing phenomenon could affect national preparedness.
The Brothers in Arms protest group had called on its thousands of members Wednesday to gather at the Tel Aviv Museum, close to the Israel Defense Forces’ headquarters, to sign a declaration committing to stop volunteering for reserve duty, claiming that the government’s plans were turning the country into a “dictatorship.”
It was unclear how many reservists signed the declaration, but around 1,000 people were seen at the site waiting to sign.
Outside the Tel Hashomer military base in Ramat Gan, representatives of doctors, paramedics and other staff in the IDF’s Medical Corps held a press conference to present letters they would later give to the head of the IDF Medical Corps, Brig. Gen. Prof. Elon Glassberg, in which they say they will no longer show up for volunteer reserve duty.
“This year marks 30 years of combat service as a fighter and as a combat medic, but I will never serve an undemocratic regime. This is not how I wanted to end my military service, but the government forced this terrible decision on me,” Dr. Or Goren, the manager of the Ichilov Hospital’s operating room, was cited by the Haaretz daily as saying at the press conference.
Meanwhile, two brigadier generals in the Air Force reserves announced Wednesday they were also ending their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the overhaul, bringing the number of protesting reservists with that rank to four.
“I will not continue to volunteer under a regime that unilaterally changes the basic agreement between the citizens and the state,” said Brig. Gen. (res.) Shelly Gutman, the former commander of the Hatzerim airbase, in a letter to IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar. The other officer was Brig. Gen. (res.) Amnon Ein Dar, the former head of the IAF’s Air Division.
In recent weeks, protests against the judicial overhaul have roiled the IDF, with reservists from dozens of units joining in threats to cease their voluntary service.
The threats have ramped up in recent days as the government races ahead with a bill restricting the use of the so-called “reasonableness” judicial test, part of its controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Defense officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle have warned that the mass refusals could make Israel more vulnerable to outside threats.
On Wednesday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi issued a new plea to reservists who are planning or have already announced that they are ending their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the overhaul.
“These days, the IDF is dealing with preserving competence and cohesion, even when there is tension between them,” Chief of Staff Halevi said during a visit to the Tel Nof airbase.
“The IDF is based on the reserve system since its inception. These are the best people… and we cherish them. Without them, the people’s army model would not have lasted 75 years,” Halevi said.
“Calls to not show up [for duty] harm the IDF,” Halevi added.
The IDF said it knows of several hundred reservists who have announced that they will no longer show up for volunteer reserve duty in protest of the judicial overhaul.
The military said that it was still maintaining its competency at this stage, but expected more reservists, including pilots, to announce similar moves. The majority of the reservists who have said that they will no longer show up for volunteer duty are part of the Air Force, though not all of them are pilots, according to the IDF.
Army officials have been constantly conducting assessments on the current situation, focused largely on the “cohesion” or unity, within the military, which is expected to take a hit amid the protests.
On Sunday, following an emergency meeting, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Halevi reportedly agreed to relay the concerns over the potential negative impact on military readiness to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Defense Ministry confirmed Wednesday that Gallant and Halevi met with Netanyahu this week amid the increasing threats by reservists, in order to brief the prime minister on the “security situation assessment and the competence of the IDF.” The ministry did not elaborate further on the meeting, or when it took place.
Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order from the IDF, pilots and other special forces are expected to train and carry out missions more frequently and in a voluntary manner due to the nature of their positions.
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 reservists — who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units — are 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.
The calls to refuse to show up for reserve duty started 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. The threats again 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.