Hundreds of elite IDF officers plan Sunday walkout over judicial reform

The protesters claim the judicial overhaul would end democracy in Israel. The authors of the reforms, among others, including Alan Dershowitz, disagree.

By Associated Press and World Israel News

Hundreds of elite officers in Israel’s military reserves say they will not show up for duty starting on Sunday in protest over the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The firm date is the first time set for an unprecedented political protest within the security services. The Netanyahu government’s controversial legal overhaul has sparked weeks of mass protests across Israel amidst a deteriorating security situation in the Judea and Samaria region and within Israel.

Earlier this month, 37 out of 40 reserve pilots announced they would boycott the first day of training. Opposition leader Yair Lapid, National Unity party head Benny Gantz and Yisrael Beyteinu party leader Avigdor Liberman criticized any refusal on the part of IDF fighters to boycott reserve duty,  their “valid” concerns.

Nevertheless, the officers are going ahead with their plan. In two separate letters published Thursday, about 750 elite officers from the Air Force, special forces, and Mossad intelligence  threatened to stop volunteering for duty. The typically taboo talk underlines how deeply the overhaul plan has divided Israel and is now tearing at what Israeli Jews see as their most respected institution, the military.

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After completing three years of mandatory service, many Israelis continue in the reserves until their 40s, when service becomes voluntary. Reservists are the backbone of the force when security crises erupt, and they regularly serve in complex operations overseas.

Israel’s military chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, has met with protesting officers and warned the prime minister about the rising discontent in the ranks.

“We fear that following military orders would be a violation of our oath, our conscience and our mission,” read a letter signed by 100 elite Air Force officers, including two former chiefs, revealed by Channel 12 News.

About 650 more officers from the reserves’ special forces and cyber units said in a separate letter, “We will not serve a dictatorship. The contract was broken. We are ready to give our life and soul,and the government should give responsibility and sanity.”

World-renowned American-Jewish attorney and author Alan Dershowitz, a strong defender of Israel, said it isn’t true that Israel would cease to be a democracy if the reforms are implemented, although he is not in favor of them. According to Dershowitz, the majority of the protesters have no understanding of the judicial system or what the reforms entail. He charged that the mass protests of hundreds of thousands across the country were instigated by those who are interested only in overturning the November 1st elections that returned Benjamin Netanyahu to the premiership.

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“This is all about trying to undo the election, this is all about Netanyahu,” Dershowitz said.

Prof. Moshe Koppel, chairman of the Kohelet Policy Forum and one of the authors of the reforms, has explained his position that contrary to those who fear the end of democracy in Israel, the reforms would in fact restore the checks and balances that have been stripped away by a court system that has arrogated powers beyond its purview.

Commenting at the weekly cabinet meeting in mid-January on the Sunday morning after the first massive protest against the reforms, the prime minister said that the demonstrators are a minority among Israelis who voted in the election.

“Several months ago, there was a huge demonstration, the mother of all demonstrations,” he said. “Millions of people took to the streets to vote in the elections. One of the main topics that they voted on was reforming the judicial system.”

He also countered claims by Opposition leader Yair Lapid that the voters did not understand his Likud party’s agenda. “What’s more,” he said, “they demanded it from us.”