Hundreds of elite IDF reservists stop showing up for duty over judicial overhaul


Hundreds of elite reserve soldiers of Israel’s Defense Forces ended their voluntary service on Sunday, making good on a threat issued several weeks ago in response to government plans to overhaul the judicial system.

Organizers of the group, which said it has 450 officers and soldiers in the Special Operations Division of Military Intelligence and 200 in cyber warfare units, announced Thursday that they will stop showing up for voluntary duty, citing government plans to vote final Knesset holding. on legislation that would greatly restrict the courts or legislature from removing an unfit prime minister.

“We are stopping volunteering for reserve duty as of today, and we will be happy to return to volunteering when democracy is safe,” Cpt. “Aleph” – who can only be identified by his degree and his first name in Hebrew – told Kan public radio on Sunday morning.

Aleph, who serves in the Special Operations Division, asked other volunteer reservists to stop being on duty “until this effort is over.”

“The difference between serving in Putin’s army and serving in the IDF will be erased,” Aleph said.

Unlike most reservists who will be called to duty by a formal order from the IDF, soldiers in the Special Operations Division and cyber warfare units show up for duty more frequently and on a voluntary basis, often not during an emergency, due to the nature of their position.

Israeli reserve soldiers and activists protest against the government’s planned judicial reform, in Bnei Brak, March 16, 2023. (Flash90)

Calls among IDF reservists to refuse to serve because of the government’s legislative efforts have rallied the military in recent weeks, growing in number even as they have been criticized by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition.

In late February, hundreds of reservists in the Special Operations Division issued an open letter in the first warning of plans to end their voluntary service unless a broad compromise on reform is reached. And a week later, soldiers from cyber warfare units similarly warned that they would stop volunteering for the reserves if the overhaul is approved.

Reservists in nearly every branch of the military have received such letters and calls in recent weeks, including jet fighter pilots, undercover infantry officers, submariners, sailors, helicopter pilots and others.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has said threats by reservists to refuse to serve if the government’s judicial reform is passed will harm national security.

In a speech last week, military chief Herzi Halevi said “The IDF will not be able to act without the spirit of volunteer work of the reservists and their willingness. [to serve]which depends on the preservation of the IDF as the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.”

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi speaking at a military ceremony for reserve troops at Tel Aviv University, March 12, 2023. (Israel Defense Forces)

Opposition figures have said they sympathize with the sentiment behind the reserve calls, but cannot support such measures.

“I am against rejection. I don’t think it’s the way. I understand the pain, the sadness, the horror, and the anger. I think it’s a mistake. We have one army, and it must not be rejected,” opposition leader Yair Lapid said earlier this month.

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz – former head of the IDF and former defense minister – recently said that the IDF reservists “must continue to serve, show up no matter what, defend this country with protests and to protect her with [military] forays … despite the pain.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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