Dozens of Israeli Air Force reservists will refuse to show up for training exercises to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial plans to overhaul the country’s legal system.
Demonstrations have been held across the country for nine straight weeks over the proposals, which critics say would limit the power of judges and weaken the Supreme Court.
Mr Netanyahuwho is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, was sworn in for his sixth term as Israel‘s PM in January – this time at the head of an ultra-nationalist far-right coalition.
Public opposition to the plans has grown since thenbut the move of 37 pilots and navigators from the Air Force’s F-15 squadron is a symbolically significant step.
Israel prides itself on its military might and its forces are meant to be apolitical.
But in a letter to local media, those involved in the strike said they would not train on Wednesday and would “dedicate our time to dialogue and reflection in the name of democracy and national unity”. .
They said they would suspend the protest if necessary to carry out operations. Reservists are typically only used in wartime, but train regularly to ensure they are prepared.
Minister says protests are ‘played out’
An ally of the Prime Minister sought to downplay the significance of the reservists’ intervention.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told Channel 12 TV the media was “playing up” their statement, insisting that “hundreds of thousands” continued to enlist in the army.
Mr Netanyahu himself also appeared to take up the issue on social media, tweeting a picture of himself at conscription age with a caption reading: “When called up for reserve duty, you always show up. “
The Prime Minister is a former officer of his country’s most prestigious commando unit.
A senior Israel Defense Forces (IDF) commander has insisted he will not allow the ongoing controversy over the government’s program to impact the army’s capabilities.
Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevy is “aware of public discourse and division,” a spokesman said, but will not let it affect the IDF’s “ability to carry out its most important mission – to defend Israel’s security”.
Officers were ordered to speak with their subordinates about the issue, they added.