Shortly before the decisive vote in parliament, Israeli Defense Minister Joav Galant intervened on Friday night in the dispute over the restructuring of the judiciary. He was responding to the letter posted on Friday by more than 1,000 Israeli Air Force reservists, including hundreds of fighter pilots. They announced that they would no longer participate in regular exercises if the law was passed.
“Galant is currently taking steps to reach broad consensus and ensure the security of the State of Israel,” his office said last night when asked. The reservists’ announcement is by far the strongest resistance within the army to date against the restructuring of the judiciary, which critics see as a threat to democracy.
More than 400 soldiers from other units, including elite soldiers, had already refused to participate in the exercises.
Reservists for the Irreplaceable Air Forces
However, reservists are particularly important to fighter pilots, as they have much more experience than many of the younger, active-duty pilots. Sometimes they have weekly workouts to be ready and would lose their readiness if they were away from training for months. This could compromise the full operational capability of the air force in an emergency.
According to Israeli media reports, feverish talks will continue through the weekend to reach an agreement. If not, Galant could also push for a delay, she said. It is currently unclear whether an agreement can be reached in view of the hard fronts.
Israel: Army resists judicial restructuring
In Israel, there were new riots and clashes with the police as part of the protests against the judicial reform of the Netanyahu government. Now the resistance also comes from the army. More and more Israeli reservists are threatening to refuse service.
Political Survival and Matters of Principle
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a strong self-interest in undermining the judiciary on a variety of charges, including corruption. Then there are his right-to-right coalition partners who have campaigned for years to weaken the judiciary and without whom Netanyahu cannot remain in power. Netanyahu destroyed the base of all moderate and center-left parties in previous coalitions. None of them are ready to form another coalition with Netanyahu.
In the background – not least because of demographic change (growing proportion of religious and Palestinians, note) – there are fundamental questions for the country: How secular or how religious should public life be? How many rights should minorities like Israeli Palestinians, who make up about 20% of the total population, have? And, from the conflict over Jewish settlements in the occupied territories: What should living with the Palestinians look like and a lasting solution to the conflict?
Arguments of the “Sarbanim”
The “Sarbanim” in the army (“refusal” – however, they only refuse exercises, not called in in an emergency, note.) In addition to their concern for democracy, they also raise very direct concerns: According to legal assessments, the weakening of the judiciary could mean that it is no longer internationally recognized as independent. This would pave the way for servicemen to be arrested abroad and tried for possible war crimes before the International Criminal Court. As a result, they could no longer safely travel abroad.
Permanent demos for months
For more than six months, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets against the sweeping bill. Several rallies and disruptive actions are planned for Saturday. The arrival of a protest march is also expected in Jerusalem. Hundreds of people began the 70-kilometer walk from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Tuesday night. On Friday there were more than 10,000 participants. On Sunday night there will also be a demonstration by supporters of reform in Tel Aviv.
Several government ministers condemned the reservists’ threat and stressed that they would not accept it. Right-wing finance minister Besalel Smotrich wrote on Facebook: “A country that submits to the threats of generals becomes, in fact, a country ruled by a military junta.” Not a single active-duty general is participating in the protests, although several former generals are.
The judiciary will be severely weakened
Netanyahu sacked Galant in March after he publicly called for the plans to be stopped and warned that national security could be seriously undermined. His resignation was followed by violent protests and a general strike. The head of government then put the plans on hold and Galant’s dismissal was later reversed.
The Israeli government deliberately wants to weaken the country’s highest court. In his opinion, the independent judiciary has a lot of influence on political decisions. More recently, US President Joe Biden – the US is by far Israel’s most important ally – has openly pushed for a deal.