200 teens say they won’t enlist, protesting judicial overhaul, control over West Bank

12th graders announce demonstration ‘against dictatorship’ at Tel Aviv high school when school year starts next week

File: Young Israelis line up at an army recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, on July 25, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
File: Young Israelis line up at an army recruitment center at Tel Hashomer, outside of Tel Aviv, on July 25, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A group of teenagers have signed onto a joint letter declaring they will refuse to be conscripted by the military, as a protest against the government’s judicial overhaul push and Israel’s decades-long control over the West Bank.

In a statement Sunday, the 12th graders announced they would reveal the letter during a planned protest at Tel Aviv’s Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium when the school year begins on September 3.

At least two hundred teens have so far signed the joint letter, according to Channel 13 news.

“We are going to take over the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium for a crazy unveiling of the letter and we will also teach everything that Yoav Kisch does not want us to know,” the statement said, referring to the education minister.

The teens said they would also hold “alternative classes on the lawn about real democracy and resistance,” with featured speakers to include activists, a communist youth group and representatives of several advocacy organizations involved in climate change, transgender rights and documenting alleged rights abuses in the West Bank.

The event will wrap up with a performance by a member of the band WC.

Illustrative photo of high school students. (Maya Levin/Flash90)

“In recent weeks we decided we must do something,” Tal Mitnick, one of the organizers of the “youth against dictatorship” initiative, said in a video statement.

“We must stop the judicial overhaul and we must stop taking part in a military that serves settlements and the occupation,” the 17-year-old declared. “We decided to use our power, as those designated for military service, to protest and say we will not enlist.”

There have been numerous past cases of small groups of 12th graders refusing to serve in the Israel Defense Forces to protest the country’s policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Israel allows military service exemptions for a number of reasons, including mental health and medical problems and religious objections, and for Arab Israelis, but rarely for conscientious objectors. Refusal to serve is one of the most divisive issues in Israel.

The letter’s invocation of the judicial overhaul — government efforts to weaken the judiciary — came amid mass protests and warnings by thousands of reservists that they would stop showing up for volunteer duty, charging that the government’s plans to weaken the judiciary will turn Israel into an undemocratic country.

A reservist signs a declaration intending to end their volunteer reserve duty, outside the IDF headquarters and near the Tel Aviv Museum in Tel Aviv, July 19, 2023. (Courtesy Ben Cohen)

Some of the reservists have since acted on this threat after the coalition last month passed the so-called reasonableness law curbing the courts’ authority to scrutinize government actions. No official figures have been made available on how many reservists have failed to show up for duty thus far.

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order for several days a year, members of top units, especially pilots, are expected to train and carry out missions more frequently and in a voluntary manner due to the nature of their positions. Many voluntarily continue their reserve duty past the exemption age of 45 for officers and 49 for certain positions.

Top IDF commanders have warned the reservist protests are having an increasingly negative impact on military readiness, drawing rebukes from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, other lawmakers, and supporters of the far-right, religious government.

Netanyahu’s coalition has rejected the reservists’ protests as a dangerous and unprecedented form of political blackmail by the military. Some coalition lawmakers suggested the protests are tantamount to an attempted military coup.

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