In a major development, Israeli defense minister Yoav Gallant on Saturday called for Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to halt its planned judicial reforms, which have prompted enormous protests and are starting to disrupt the country’s military.
“I see the source of our strength eroding…The rift within our society is widening and penetrating the Israel Defense Forces,” said Gallant in a televised evening speech. “This is a clear and immediate and tangible danger to the security of the state. I shall not be a party to this.”
In addition to calling for a suspension of the reforms, Gallant also implored Israelis to stop their enormous protests, which raged even as he spoke.
The coming week could bring high drama and even more upheaval, as the Knesset is expected to hold its final vote on the first aspect of the judicial overhaul: a measure giving the government more power over Supreme Court appointments.
Other reforms would allow the Knesset — Israel’s unicameral legislature — to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority vote. Others would end the court’s practice of applying a “reasonableness” test when evaluating laws and government actions.
Critics characterize the scheme as a step deeper into authoritarianism. Some say the moves are in part designed to help Netanyahu terminate his ongoing prosecution on corruption charges.
The past ten weeks have seen major public protests all across Israel. Saturday night’s crowds were reportedly the largest yet, estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
Tel Aviv, today. Estimated as the largest protest in the history of Israel pic.twitter.com/2CEGz4cl2b
— Danel Lushi (@DanelLushi) March 25, 2023
Gallant said the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) are feeling the effects: “The events happening in Israeli society are not staying out of the military. Feelings of rage, disappointment and fear have reached heights we have never seen before,” said Gallant.
More pressingly, a growing coalition of Israeli service members — calling themselves Brothers in Arms — are committing to stop showing up for duty in protest of the measures.
Some say they’ll stay home if the judicial reform passes, but others aren’t waiting — particularly among Israel’s reserve forces. On Friday, two hundred Israeli Air Force reserve pilots signed a letter saying they will not report for two weeks. Reservists are an essential part of Israel’s military, and especially its air force, which has been active in bombing targets across Syria, including the Damascus airport.
IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi has already sounded an internal alarm, saying the dip in reservists reporting for duty is now so large that the the military is on the verge of curtailing some operations, according to The New York Times, which quoted three anonymous Israeli officials. Two of those officials are bracing for resignations from full-time service members.
Underscoring the divisions caused by the judicial proposal, far-right national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir lashed out at his fellow cabinet member, urging Netanyahu to fire Gallant, whom he condemned for “succumbing to the pressure of those [IDF members] who threatened to refuse [to report for duty] and are trying to stop the important reform.”
Similarly, Israel’s communications minister accused Gallant, a former navy commando, of “giving wind to a military coup.”
However, just minutes after Gallant concluded his remarks, two of his fellow Likud party lawmakers endorsed his plea, Haaretz reports. One is the chair of the Knesset’s security and foreign affairs committee, and the other is a person who rarely criticizes Netanyahu.
Israel’s agriculture minister and another Likud member reportedly favor a freeze as well. If they went as far as to become “no” votes, that quartet would be sufficient to impede the legislation.
On Friday — the day before Gallant’s speech — Netanyahu told reporters:
“Surrendering to [IDF] refusal is a terrible danger to the state of Israel…The country cannot exist without the IDF. There will not be a nation, it’s very simple. All red lines have been crossed. People who were responsible for the security of the country suddenly adopted this cynicism.”
Gallant said he had privately shared his views with Netanyahu, who asked him to delay going public with them. Gallant cancelled plans to speak out on Thursday, but said he now felt compelled to take his message to all Israelis.
Netanyahu ends another humiliating foreign trip, his own defense minister urges a halt to the govt anti-democratic legislative blitz while record numbers protest across Israel; police use water cannon and far-right Kahanists counter-demonstrate @haaretzcomhttps://t.co/4Z68IFoaAN pic.twitter.com/b4azoVOtEK
— Esther Solomon (@EstherSolomon) March 25, 2023
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