Some 10,000 Israel Defense Forces reservists will suspend their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system, a large protest group announced Saturday evening.
At a press conference in Herzliya, leaders of Brothers in Arms announced the move, the latest to send shockwaves through the Israel Defense Forces, which is struggling to stem a growing flood of reserve troops dropping out of volunteer duty to protest the overhaul, as defense officials warn the phenomenon could affect national preparedness.
“We’ve tried everything, This is where we draw the line. We pledged to serve the kingdom and not the king. We are determined, we are fighters, we love this country and we will not give up on it,” said Eyal Nave, one of the leaders of Brothers in Arms.
He said the leaders were representing some 10,000 reservists from dozens of units who would end their volunteer duty if the government continues to advance the controversial legislation.
Captain (res.) Nevo Erez, a former commander of the elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit and a former senior official in the Mossad spy agency, said at the conference that he would not be able to serve in what he branded a dictatorship.
Appealing directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, “You and only you are responsible for what is happening here. We had faith in the government but the government broke us. I will not volunteer to serve in a dictatorial state.”
Earlier Saturday, nearly 500 active reservists in the Military Intelligence Directorate issued a letter announcing that they too were suspending their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the overhaul.
The Military Intelligence reservists in their letter called on the government to “immediately stop the dictatorial moves that violate the contract between the government of Israel and its citizens.”
“Although we have called many times for negotiations and broad agreements on the issues at hand, unfortunately not only did the negotiations at the president’s residence not go well, but the government continues to advance the coup all the more forcefully,” the letter read.
The reservists said they were informing their commanders “with great sadness, that we are suspending our volunteering for reserve service until further notice.”
The letter, addressed to the head of the IDF Military Intelligence Directorate, Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva, was signed by 904 reservists, 487 of whom show up frequently for duty.
On Friday, over a thousand Israeli Air Force reservists issued a letter announcing that they would suspend their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the judicial overhaul. By Saturday evening, the number of signatories to the letter reached 1,192, including more than 400 pilots.
IDF chief Herzi Halevi was expected to speak to Netanyahu Sunday about the growing number of reservists suspending their volunteer service and the expected impact on military readiness, according to Hebrew media reports.
Protests against the judicial overhaul have roiled the IDF for months, with the threats ramping up as the government pushes a bill barring judges from the use of the so-called “reasonableness” test for government and ministerial decisions, part of the coalition’s controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.
The threats have simultaneously created more pressure on the government to halt the controversial legislation, while also increasing the coalition’s determination, with members of Netanyahu’s government saying they cannot under any circumstances succumb to what they say is blackmail by members of the military, which they warn could create a dangerous precedent.
Earlier Saturday, dozens of former top security officials — including ex-heads of the IDF, Mossad and Shin Bet — sent a letter to Netanyahu calling on him to halt the judicial overhaul legislation to allow for renewed talks, while expressing support for reservists who have threatened to stop volunteering in protest.
Meanwhile, defense officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle have warned that the mass refusals could make Israel more vulnerable to outside threats, as the readiness of the military, particularly the IAF, would be negatively impacted.
Reservists, especially members of the IAF, are a key part of the army’s routine activities. Defense officials have said pilots could harm their competency by taking breaks from their frequent training exercises, and it would take a significant amount of time to restore their flying abilities.
The IDF appears to be facing an unprecedented threat, with thousands of reservists calling to end their volunteer reserve duty. During the 2005 Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, the military anticipated a large wave of insubordination by members of the standing army, although few ended up actually refusing to carry out the evacuation orders.
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.
Tal Schneider contributed to this report.