Former Israeli soldiers have issued an extraordinary warning about dangerous divisions in the nation’s military over the government’s judicial reforms. The veterans claim the situation is far graver than what the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) leadership has described and is now affecting not only reservists, but also active duty soldiers and pilots.
Around 10,000 reservists have threatened to refuse to report for duty if the government does not drop this legislation. It’s still unclear when they plan to carry out that threat because only the first phase of the reforms has been passed and the Knesset (Israel parliament) is now in recess.
This week the Knesset passed the first contentious bill restricting Supreme Court powers. It will prevent the court from overruling government actions it considers ‘unreasonable.’ It was approved by 64 votes to none after the opposition boycotted the vote.
Four leading Israeli newspapers responded to the vote by covering their front pages in black ink in a protest paid for by an alliance of high-tech companies. The only words on the pages read: “A black day for Israeli democracy.”
Critics say the legislation will erode Israel’s system of checks and balances. The controversial reforms of Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government have sparked massive protests throughout the year and are now threatening to escalate into national strikes. Thousands of doctors have already walked off the job for 24 hours.
But it is the potential strike by IDF personnel that’s causing serious anxiety in a country that prides itself on its security and its ability to action a fast response to any kind of threat. The IDF has already fined at least one reservist and suspended another for ignoring call-ups.
IDF spokesman Brigadier General Daniel Hagari admitted: “There has been an increase in requests to halt reserve duty. If reservists do not report for duty for a long duration, there will be damage done to the preparedness of the military.”
Thousands of reservists have signed petitions, vowing not to show up for volunteer military service. One of them Adam Schacham told the BBC: “When I do reserve duty I train the next generation of our fighters. I will not be doing that, so they won’t be as good. And I’m terribly sorry.” But he added: “If the country is really threatened, we will all show up and there will be no argument whatsoever.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid has called on the protesting reservists to hold off on strike action before any Supreme Court ruling on appeals against the new law. Both a political watchdog group and the Israel Bar Association have already filed challenges.