This is the first time in the history of the State of Israel that its main emblem and guarantor of national security, that is, part of its armed forces, has seriously questioned the government, which has gone so far as to use the term “insubordination”.
The growing demonstrations, in intensity and number, that every week show the government coalition, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, its displeasure and radical opposition to the justice reform project, were joined last Sunday by 37 of the 40 reservist pilots of the 69th Air Force Combat Squadron. In the letter addressed to their commander, the pilots announced their intention not to hold the air training sessions scheduled for Wednesday, but instead to hold discussions outside official facilities in Jerusalem “to safeguard democracy and the unity of the people”.
This was followed by an open letter from the ten living former heads of the Israel Air Force, from Major General Dan Tolkovsky, who served from 1953 to 1958, to Major General Amikam Norkin, who commanded the air force until 2022. The four historical commanders who did not sign the letter are deceased. The text, addressed to both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, notes “the grave concern with which they follow the processes that are taking place in the State of Israel and in particular in the air force at this time”… “We fear the consequences that such processes represent for national security”.
Emphasising the excellent and unimpeachable motivation of the reservist pilots in their ongoing service to the state, they call on the government to “halt the [judicial reform] process and find a solution as soon as possible”.
Although not explicitly mentioned, this initiative follows discussions taking place in the flag rooms of Israel Defense Forces (IDF) barracks. Another letter circulated within one of the elite corps, the notorious Unit 8200, had by Tuesday collected more than 500 signatures, according to The Jerusalem Post.
The situation has become so serious that the Defence Minister, while expressing his willingness to engage in dialogue, denounces the “insubordination” that would result from the extension of these protests, “which would damage Israel’s ability to carry out its missions”. This has also been emphasised by the current Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi: “I will not allow damage to the IDF’s ability to actualise its existential mission of safeguarding the nation’s security”.
Without disavowing their right to protest, in this case for disagreeing with a reform that they believe would deal a decisive blow to Israel as a democratic state, other serving generals as well as former Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz have called on reservist pilots to “fulfil their commitments in their respective units, both to their subordinates and their superiors as well as to the State of Israel, ensuring the protection of its citizens”.
Within the government, the controversial Security Minister, Ben-Gvir, has taken the opposition to task, blaming it for much of the numerous incidents marking the protests. Ben-Gvir, who says he recognises the right to protest as “a fundamental right essential to democracy”, said he was prepared to “prevent lawlessness and incitement to harm the state of Israel”.
The current head of the opposition and former Prime Minister Yair Lapid immediately responded: “The only one responsible for the chaos and the deep division that is taking place in Israeli society and within the IDF is the most destructive government in the history of our country”.
For the time being, and despite calls for dialogue with President Isaac Herzog’s opponents, Prime Minister Netanyahu remains determined to complete his reform, which would cut the independence of the judiciary, especially that of the Supreme Court to annul laws or regulations passed by the Knesset as unconstitutional. Netanyahu points out that the aim of the reform is “the rebalancing of powers”. The most vehement protesters warn that, should the reform go through, Israel would cease to be a fully democratic state and risk becoming “a banana republic”.
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