Israeli media outlets have reported that defence minister Yoav Gallant has threatened to resign over growing insubordination among army reservists in protest at plans by prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government to significantly weaken the judiciary – a move opponents say will undermine Israeli democracy.
According to the reports, Mr Gallant, from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, raised his concerns in multiple conversations with Mr Netanyahu, who later told other ministers that his defence minister will probably resign.
The reports came after hundreds of reservists made good on a promise to refuse to serve. More than 250 Israeli air force reservists announced over the weekend that they will not report for training this week, joining about 650 other army intelligence reservists from special ops and cyber units who began their boycott on Sunday.
Organisers of the protest issued a statement saying: “We have no contract with a dictator. We will be happy to volunteer when democracy is assured.”
In a text sent to her commanding officer in the reserves, one soldier wrote: “As the coalition is moving forward with their legislation blitz, I am dedicating this week to fight for democracy and protest the judicial reform. I will not be available for reserve duty.”
More than 400,000 Israelis serve in the reserves after completing their mandatory military service. Reserve service is considered part of the national ethos, and mass insubordination is unprecedented.
Addressing ministers at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu remained defiant. “I expect from the military chief-of-staff and the heads of the branches of the security services to aggressively combat the refusal to serve. There’s no place for refusal to serve in the public discourse. A state that wishes to exist can’t tolerate such phenomena, and we will not tolerate it as well.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, tweeted in response that if Mr Netanyahu suspended the judicial overhaul reservists would stop refusing to serve.
There was no response from the military top brass, but the army’s chief-of-staff, Lieut Gen Herzl Halevi, has reportedly warned Mr Netanyahu that the reservists’ protest risks harming Israel’s military capabilities. He promised to make sure it does not, and keep the military outside of the public debate on the overhaul.
The proposed changes will bar the high court of justice from oversight of key laws and will change the composition of the judges’ selection committee, giving the government a majority of at least five out of its nine members. Ministers will also be able to overrule the advice of legal advisers.
Last week Mr Netanyahu rejected compromise proposals put forward by president Yitzhak Herzog designed at ending the bitter rift that has divided Israeli society and brought hundreds of thousands of protesters on to the streets. Mr Netanyahu claims the overhaul is meant to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power and prevented parliament from carrying out the voting public’s will.