Netanyahu urges military leader to contain protest by reservists
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has urged the army chief of staff to contain a wave of protests within the ranks against a controversial government plan to overhaul the judicial system
TEL-AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged the army chief of staff to contain a wave of protests within the ranks against a controversial government plan to overhaul the judicial system.
Netanyahu’s remarks come as Israel is plunged into a major crisis that has sent tens of thousands onto the streets in protest every week for the past two months. The division over Netanyahu’s plans to change the justice system has not spared the country’s military, its most trusted institution, where many reservists have pledged not to report for duty under what they see it as an imminent regime change.
As of Sunday, more than 700 elite Air Force, special forces and Mossad officers said they would stop volunteering for service. The typically taboo talk of refusing to serve in an army mandatory for most Jews and highly respected by the Jewish majority underscores how the overhaul plan has divided Israel.
Netanyahu rejected a compromise plan proposed by the country’s ceremonial president intended to defuse the crisis. He made no mention of reaching a deal with opponents during remarks to his cabinet, instead saying he would not accept ‘anarchy’, listing demands his security chiefs are holding back the blockades of roads by protesters, the incitement against him and his ministers and the refusal to serve by a growing number of reservists.
“I expect the Chief of Staff and the heads of the branches of the security services to vigorously combat the refusal to serve. There is no place for refusal to serve in public discourse,” he said. “A state that wants to exist cannot tolerate such phenomena and neither will we.”
The military had no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s remarks. Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi reportedly warned Netanyahu that the reservists’ protest risked undermining the army’s capabilities. He pledged to make sure that doesn’t happen and to keep the military out of the public overhaul debate.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted in response that if Netanyahu suspended the overhaul, reservists would stop refusing to serve.
The protest from within the military comes as Israel is mired in a year-long series of fighting with the Palestinians, and as Israel’s archenemy Iran pursues its nuclear program. Israel says Iran is developing a nuclear bomb – a charge Tehran denies.
Netanyahu said Sunday that the legal changes would be made responsibly while protecting the basic rights of all Israelis. His government – the most right-wing in the country ever – says the overhaul aims to correct an imbalance that has given too much power to the courts and prevented lawmakers from carrying out the will of voters.
Critics say it will upset Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and slide the country toward authoritarianism. They also say it could give Netanyahu a chance to escape conviction in his corruption trial.