Israeli air force reservists threaten not to serve if judicial overhaul plan continues

Israeli military reservists at a protest
Israeli military reservists protest in February against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to overhaul the judicial system.
(Ohad Zwigenberg / Associated Press)

Dozens of Israeli air force reservists said Wednesday that they would refuse to show up for duty if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government moves ahead with a contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary.

The threat comes after Netanyahu said his government would proceed with the overhaul after talks with the opposition to find a compromise faltered. Coalition legislators have since been advancing a legal change to what’s known as the “reasonability standard,” which critics say would allow the government to pass arbitrary decisions and grant it too much power.

Israeli media reported that 110 air force veterans signed the letter Wednesday saying that if the law moving ahead in parliament now, or any other law proposed as part of the overhaul, is passed, the reservists would not show up for duty.


“Legislation like this grants the government limitless power with no restraint by the judiciary and it will bring us to a point of no return,” the letter said. “We will not serve the military of a country that is not democratic.”

Airmen are seen as the cream of the military’s personnel and irreplaceable elements of many of Israel’s battle plans. Similar letters from reservists in other forces have also been issued in recent days.

Netanyahu’s government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary plunged Israel into an unprecedented crisis earlier this year, prompting a chorus of threats from reservists, who make up the backbone of the country’s military, to refuse to show up for service if the plan is implemented.

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As the threats mounted, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant delivered a speech to the nation expressing concern about the military because of the overhaul. That led Netanyahu to fire him, a move that sparked mass spontaneous protests and a daylong labor strike.

The pressure prompted Netanyahu to pause the overhaul. But after negotiations for a compromise stumbled, Netanyahu said he was pressing ahead.

Another bill in the pipeline would limit the influence of the bar association, a key player in choosing judges that recently overwhelmingly elected to its leadership a staunch opponent of the overhaul.


The overhaul has also sparked a protest movement that draws tens of thousands each Saturday. During the height of the crisis, demonstrators blocked major roads and stopped trains, succeeding at one point in forcing Netanyahu to be airlifted to the airport for an overseas trip.

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With the legislation moving ahead, the protests are set to once again increase pressure on the government, with another day of disruption planned next week.

Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, and allies in his nationalist religious government say the overhaul is needed to rein in an overly interventionist judiciary and restore power to elected officials.

Critics say the plan would upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and push the country toward dictatorship.