IDF fears more pilots will refuse to serve over judicial overhaul — report

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Military officials fear hundreds of other elite service members in the reserves will refuse to serve in protest at the government’s judicial reform, joining others who have already said they will stop their service over the legislation, if the coalition goes through with its his plans to pass. into law the first part of his legislative effort to restrain the judiciary, according to a report on Tuesday.

Israel Defense Forces officials estimate that hundreds of air force pilots and aircrew support members, as well as several career officers in the ground forces, will join the growing military protest movement, Channel 13 reported.

The spread of opposition in the military ranks has caused serious concern among top security officials, including IDF chief Herzi Halevi and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who have both expressed their concerns to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in recent meetings. , the report said.

The warning came after the leaders of a protest group representing soldiers and reserve officers said on Tuesday that they will start signing reservists on a declaration of refusal to serve, which would be implemented if the government goes ahead with the judicial overhaul.

The group’s announcement, known as Brothers in Arms, has fueled opposition to the government’s plans to rein in the judiciary, an effort opponents say threatens Israel’s democracy.

“We have been protesting in the streets for 11 weeks. An executive branch with unlimited power is a dictatorship. We are afraid of him. If the laws of dictatorship are enacted, there cannot be an army of people. There is only a people’s army in a democracy,” said Lt. Col. (res.) Ron Scherf, one of the founders of Brothers in Arms.

Members of the reserve protest group ‘Brothers in Arms’ hold a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Scherf, who served in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, said at a press conference that if the overhaul bills are passed, “we and thousands of others will stop volunteering for reserve duty.”

“The army is dying before you,” he said, addressing Gallant. “We expect you to stand up and say you will not vote for the laws. This is basically what we expect, this is the minimum.”

According to Scherf, the group has been banning reservists from refusing to be on duty, but now the government’s measures are “quickly approaching a red line.”

“Today we will actively begin signing up all reserve volunteers. The responsibility is not ours, but the government’s. It is in his hands to stop this terrible schism,” he said.

Some service members have pushed back against the move, however. Also on Tuesday, 50 pilots and aircrew staff wrote a letter to security brass offering to return to the service if they are wanted instead of refusing to protest.

“We are against rejection and ready to return to operational service immediately,” said the pilots, who recently completed their operational service, according to Channel 12. “We are committed to answering the call and returning to active reserve service to protect service. The State of Israel.”

File: Israeli reservists, veterans and activists protest outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, against the government’s proposed judicial reform, on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier on Tuesday, Army Radio reported that high-ranking IDF commanders expressed concern that a growing trend of reserve personnel refusing to serve in protest against the government’s planned judicial reform could harm the operational capabilities of the armed forces within a month.

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of right-wing, ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has advanced legislation aimed at weakening the court’s ability to serve as a check on the Knesset, as well as giving control to the government appointed judges. . There have been mass weekly protests for more than two months against the proposed legislation, with growing protests from prominent public figures including the president, jurors, business leaders and more another.

Increasingly, reservists – who are an integral part of the army’s normal activities, including in the highest units – have warned that they will not be able to serve in a democratic Israel, which they accuse the country of which will come under the government’s plan.

Military brass have insisted that the armed services must stay out of any political fight, but numerous reports have shown that the phenomenon is only growing.

In addition, soldiers have expressed concern that a lack of international confidence in the independence of Israeli judges could expose them to prosecution in international tribunals for actions they were ordered to take during service.

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi seen during a tour near the border with Lebanon, northern Israel, March 16, 2023. (David Cohen/Flash90)

In a speech on Monday to officials including Halevi, Gallant criticized the wave of incoordination in the army, saying it was a threat to national security.

“The phenomenon of widespread non-coordination could harm the IDF’s ability to carry out its missions,” he said.

However, Gallant was also said to have warned Netanyahu that he might resign if the judicial legislative blitz was not delayed.

The coalition government has now delayed some of the legislation until after the Passover holiday, but is moving ahead quickly with a bill to assert political control over the appointment of judges.

The Knesset Constitution, Justice and Law Committee is set on Wednesday to begin the voting process in the committee to approve the first pillar of the judicial reform, giving extensive control over all judicial appointments to the ruling coalitions, for its final votes in Knesset plenum next week.

While supporters say the judicial reform will rebalance power away from an overly activist court, critics argue the measures will remove necessary checks on executive and legislative power, putting democracy at risk.

Supporters plan to demonstrate on Wednesday near the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv, where Netanyahu, Transport Minister Miri Regev and Housing Minister Yitzhak Goldknopf will attend a housing conference.

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