Netanyahu calls on Israel's military chief to curb protests

The nation is embroiled in a major crisis that has sent tens of thousands of people into the streets to oppose legal reforms

An aerial view shows people protesting as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's nationalist coalition government presses on with its contentious judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 18, 2023. Reuters
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the military's chief of staff on Sunday to contain the protests by members of the armed forces against his government's plan to overhaul the judiciary.

“I expect the military chief of staff and the heads of the branches of the security services to aggressively combat a refusal to serve,” he told the Cabinet. “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.”

Mr Netanyahu, who has rejected a compromise plan proposed by Israel's President Isaac Herzog to defuse the crisis, made no mention of reaching an agreement with opponents, AP reported.

He said he would not accept “anarchy,” listing demands that his security chiefs clear road blockages by protesters, address incitement against him and his ministers, and a refusal to serve in the armed forces by a growing number of reservists.

Israel is embroiled in a major crisis that has prompted tens of thousands of people to take to the streets in protest every week for the last two months.

Meanwhile, a group of Israelis describing themselves as reservists in elite military and intelligence units said they would not turn up for some duties from Sunday.

In a letter circulated to the Israeli media, 450 protesters describing themselves as volunteer reservists from military special forces and another 200 as volunteer reservist offensive cyber operators, including from the Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies, said they were now refusing call-ups, Reuters reported.

Most Israelis are conscripted into the military for between two and three years. Some continue as reservists into middle-age.

While reservists have helped Israel prevail in previous wars, more recently it has relied on regular forces.

Military pledge

The military’s chief of staff Lt Gen Herzl Halevi has reportedly told Mr Netanyahu the reservists’ protest risks harming the military’s capabilities.

He has pledged to make sure it does not and to keep the military outside of the public debate.

The divide over Mr Netanyahu's plans to change the legal system has not spared the country's military, its most trusted institution, where many reservists have pledged not to show up for duty under what they see as impending regime change.

Mr Netanyahu calls the judicial overhaul a restoration of balance between the branches of government.

Critics see a gambit by the Prime Minister — who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies — to subordinate the courts to the executive.

On Sunday, a Knesset review committee was scheduled to discuss, before final voting sessions in the plenum, a bill that would give the coalition more control over appointments to the bench.

Updated: March 24, 2023, 5:39 AM