Israel's military reservists are joining protests – potentially transforming a political crisis into a security crisis

Dan Arbell, Scholar-in-residence at the Center for Israeli Studies, American University, The Conversation on

Published in Political News

The judicial overhaul plan of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, introduced in January, has thrown the country into its most severe domestic crisis since 1973.

The plan has incited an unprecedented wave of controversy among Israelis, as hundreds of thousands of protestors have gathered for a 12th straight week across the country in opposition to the plan. Yet it’s not simply the persistence and size of the protest that is evidence of the crisis. It’s who is protesting.

The demonstrations have brought together groups representing almost all sectors of Israeli society. But among protesters is a group of individuals rarely seen at anti-government protests over the country’s almost 75-year history: Israeli Defense Forces reservists. They include former combat pilots, members of elite units and special forces, cyber-security forces and military intelligence, who announced they will not volunteer for reserve duty service if the legislation passes in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.

Further demonstrating the unprecedented aspect of the response by reservists: Among those protesting are members of Israeli Air Force Squadron 69. All but three of the 40 reservist pilots in the squadron announced that they would not conduct training exercises and would instead join anti-government protests, claiming they are not prepared to serve in what they say would be a “dictatorial regime.”

“We have no contract with a dictator. We would be happy to volunteer when the democracy is safeguarded,” an open letter from the reservists said.

The highly controversial judicial reform plan would significantly weaken the Israeli judiciary’s oversight over the legislative and executive branches.


The plan calls for near total control over future laws, constitutional amendments and judicial appointments to be concentrated in the hands of the governing coalition in the Knesset. Critics and protesters say the plan undermines the 75-year delicate balance between the three government branches, ends liberal democracy as they know it and pushes Israel towards autocratic rule.

Despite the growing protests, Netanyahu has defiantly promised to push the reforms through the Knesset. As the country inches closer towards a constitutional showdown between the executive and legislative branches and the judicial branch, the presence of former members of elite military units in these protests is evidence that the crisis’ implications extend far beyond the domestic political arena.

Besides threatening to undermine the economy and deepen societal divides, it threatens to erode Israeli national security and provoke a constitutional crisis that could ensnare the military as well.

Israel’s military, known as the “IDF,” has been described for decades as the “people’s army.” That’s because young Israeli men and women, when they turn 18, are mandated by law to serve in the military. Men serve for two years and eight months and women for two years.


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