Israel: Army Reservists Still Threatening to Refuse Duty Over Bibi’s Reform


Israel is like, on the verge of a civil war.

Kinda funny.

I don’t really care.

The Guardian:

Over his many years of service, Zur Allon, 46, a reservist lieutenant colonel in Israel’s artillery special forces, never imagined a day when he would refuse to report for duty.

“Half of my company was blown up in Lebanon. I have given many years of my life defending this country,” said Allon, one of the leaders of Brothers and Sisters in Arms, a pressure group of more than 60,000 Israel Defence Forces (IDF) reservists, established earlier this year in protest against the government’s proposed overhaul of the judiciary.

“That’s why we are so angry,” he said. “The government is breaking a very simple contract we have, to protect a Jewish and democratic Israel.”

The IDF was envisioned by the country’s founder, David Ben-Gurion, as “the people’s army”: an apolitical melting pot that would bring together Israelis from diverse ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds, and help build a sense of social cohesion. Over the years that vision has been diluted, and the inequalities and divisions in Israeli society are reflected in the makeup of its armed forces.

Arab citizens of Israel are not conscripted, and there is a longstanding legal battle over whether the ultra-Orthodox community should be exempted from the draft, but military service is still a defining part of the national ethos. Perhaps it is unsurprising that both sides of the debate over the proposals for the judicial system so frequently invoke military metaphors.

Israel’s relatively small standing army relies heavily on 465,000 reservists – even in peacetime, they can be called up for as many as 60 days a year. Groups from critically important units, such as pilots, have threatened not to serve in the past over issues such as disengagement from the Gaza Strip and the second Lebanon war. But the country has never seen civil disobedience on this level before.

Reservists have been a strong voice in Israel’s protest movement since prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right and religious coalition announced sweeping judicial changes shortly after taking office in December. Proponents of the overhaul believe it is needed to counter a perceived leftwing bias in the unelected court’s decisions, while critics say it will lead to democratic backsliding, such as that seen in Hungary and Turkey.

There are particular concerns in the military that the proposals for the judiciary could expose officers to international prosecution. Israel is not a member of the international criminal court, arguing that its own legal system adequately investigates accusations of wrongdoing by the armed forces, although Palestinians and rights groups have long said that the very low number of indictments in Israeli investigations suggests current practice is not fit for purpose.

This month, more than 10,000 reservists signed a public letter saying they would ask to be released from service if the coalition went ahead on the first major element of the legislation – which was passed 64-0 in the Knesset on Monday, after every member of the government voted for it and the opposition boycotted the vote in protest.

Now, the question is whether the reservists will follow through on that promise, a collective action that could severely affect the IDF’s operational readiness.

“There’s no other option other than to refuse service. Up to now, the demonstrations have failed: the government went ahead regardless. We will have to take harsher measures,” said Yair Golan, a reservist major general and former deputy economy minister of the leftwing Meretz party.

“People know how to make priorities. What happens if an external threat comes along, that’s hard to predict. But right now, the first priority is to keep Israel a democratic state and fight this government.”

Several hundred reservists have already notified their commanders that they no longer wish to be called up for service. At the same time, there were reports last week that some reservists had volunteered for extra duty, in order to alleviate the effects of the refusals.

In public statements over the last few months, the IDF has tried to downplay the crisis. But last Monday night, after the vote passed, there was a public statement that commanders were worried that “if reservists do not show up for reserve duty in the long term, there will be damage to the military’s readiness”.

On Friday, the Hebrew-language media was dominated by news that the IDF’s intelligence directorate had warned Netanyahu no fewer than four times before the bill passed that Iran and the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah see a “historic opportunity” in Israel’s domestic crisis, citing a “major erosion in basic deterrence”.

Bibi is going to have to do some kind of actual coup, or he’s going to have a coup done against him.

It least it looks that way.

This is getting hot, hot, hot!