May 22, 2024

As Israel’s government appears set on pushing a controversial judicial overhaul plan through parliament, thousands of reservists have vowed to suspend their voluntary military service in protest.

Opposing the planned overhaul of the country’s judiciary, pilots, submarine officers, and other elite units have said they would refuse to continue volunteering if it meant serving a “dictatorial” government.

Tamir Hayman, the former head of the Military Intelligence Division in the Israeli army, said in an article published by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), a Tel Aviv-based think tank, that the military’s ability to fulfill its role and basic character as “the people’s army” was at risk.

Hayman underlined the critical role volunteer reservists play in the functioning of the military, but warned against its use as a tool of pressure against dissent.

Women have two-and-a-half years and men three years of mandatory military service in Israel, followed by regular voluntary military training in some cases.

‘We will not serve a dictatorship’

Uriel Katz, a 31-year-old doctor who suspended his voluntary reserve military service, completed his mandatory term about a decade ago and underwent training for over a month each year since then.

“During my military service, I had to do things that went against my conscience. I believed in the internal balance mechanisms of Israel’s system, but now that balance is disrupted,” Katz told Anadolu.

He argued that leaving his post was the right decision. “We agreed to serve a democratic country. We will not serve a dictatorship. If there’s a war in the future or the government shelves the judicial reform, I may return to the army.”

Vladimir Schuma, 43, suspended his voluntary reserve military training as a paratrooper over similar concerns that the current governing coalition was leading Israel to a “dictatorship.”

Pointing to the possibility of having to take part in “illegal actions” if the judicial reform is passed, he said that if the refusal of reservists to continue volunteering lessened the country’s readiness, this was the government’s fault.

“We are divided within the military and as a nation. Politics are to blame as friends and families no longer talk to each other … (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu and his government are corrupt, but I also hold 110 out of the 120 Knesset members accountable for not offering a viable alternative,” he added.

‘I won’t risk my life for their political agenda’

Nata Doron, a 37-year-old reserve engineer, said: “I don’t trust the government. I won’t risk my life for their political agenda. I might consider returning to duty if the government’s stance changes or a major war breaks out. For many, military service in Israel is a last resort.”

The reservist commander of a 100-strong land forces unit, who will be referred to as Or, said he recently underwent training, and that the debate about judicial reform had affected his soldiers.

Emphasizing that he was not politically left-leaning, Or, 41, said he decided to suspend his voluntary military service “to end the government’s interference with the judiciary.”

Israel has been in political turmoil in recent months over the planned judicial reform, which the opposition calls a power grab in favor of executive authority.

The Israeli opposition accuses Premier Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges, of using the judicial overhaul to protect himself from the courts.

Netanyahu has denied any link between the proposed changes and his own case.

*Writing by Necva Tastan in Istanbul

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