Dereliction of sacred duty, or a desperate act to save the country?—The raging debate about reservists refusing to serve

Miki Zohar and Itamar Ben-Gvir, neither known for subtlety, both stepped in it big time today with a video they posted. They've deleted the post, but we're sharing it for you, with subtitles added.

Listen to the talk-shows (as it seems we’re doing all day long). Listen to the protesters at the marches and rallies. Speak to the organizers. It’s becoming clear—many people are slowly coming to believe that the only “nuclear weapon” that the anti-judicial-reform side has is the reservists refusing to serve.

This issue of refusal of pilots to serve is fascinating. On Monday, for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside, we will post a video conversation between two pilots, both opposed to the reforms, but who disagree passionately about refusal to serve. I found it moving and deeply thoughtful, and we’ll share it with you, with subtitles, next week.

The numbers are rising steadily, and they are coming from all directions. More than 300 people in the Medical Corps, including doctors, have said they won’t serve. 8200 is probably Israel’s best known intelligence unit, and it’s huge. Now, some 1,000 reservists in the cyber-warfare unit have announced that they’re done if the “reasonability clause” (the first phase of the reform to possibly become law) changes go through. In recent weeks, hundreds of pilots have refused to serve—they don’t all come from the same squadrons, so many, many squadrons would be missing a few people. Yesterday, another 161 senior air force reservists announced that they’re done. The proposed changes, they said, would turn Israel into a “dictatorship”—why on earth would they risk their lives flying missions?

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One can agree or disagree with their assessment of the what the legislation would do, but they’re certainly not alone. Former Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said last week that Israel stands “on the brink of dictatorship,” and today, said that the judicial “reform” would “crush” the country’s top court and constitute “a full-blown regime coup.”

What’s fascinating is that military service is so sacred in parts of Israeli society, that even among those who object to the reforms, there is a raging debate as to whether these reservists have crossed a line that dare not be crossed. The IDF’s Chief of Staff, Herzi Halevi (who happens to be an extraordinary person, about whom we’ll write down the road), is obviously deeply distressed. He’s not trying to hide the damage to the IDF’s readiness, even as he seeks to reassure the public that Israel could still manage to go to war if it needed to.

Times of Israel screenshot

Whatever Halevi may think privately, of course, as Chief of Staff that is precisely the position that he has to take. But others, no longer serving, are not bound by an obligation to keep their operations running, and they are making very different comments.

Times of Israel screenshot

Nadav Argaman, a former head of the Shin Bet Security Services and widely respected, said he supported the reservists’ refusal to serve. And he echoed Mandelblit’s claim that the “overhaul is a coup.”

Which leads us to our topic for today, in this brief “outside of our regular schedule” posting.

Earlier today, Likud MK Miki Zohar (who also serves as Minister of Culture and Sport), uploaded a video in concert with MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who, it should be recalled, the IDF refused to draft because he was considered unfit for service.

Their video raised the question of whether anti-reform soldiers, like pilots, would actually come to the aid of soldiers in the field if those soldiers had supported the plan. It’s obviously fantasy, but was a clever way of making the case that politics should be kept entirely out of the IDF’s world.

Times of Israel screenshot

Except that the video had the opposite effect. The mere suggestion that anti-reform pilots would refuse to assist pro-reform ground troops was so outrageous that the army itself had to get involved (thus bringing politics into the army), and said that the video had to be “condemned in no uncertain terms.” Zohar promptly deleted the video, and said that it had been taken out of context (once you watch it, you decide what context it was mean t for).

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So, if you go to Zohar’s Twitter account, you won’t find it anymore. But plenty of people had downloaded it already, and it’s making its way all around Israeli social media. The mainstream Israeli English-language media are reporting on this latest kerfuffle (or outrage, depending on whom you ask), but are not providing an English version. So we’ve taken the video and have added subtitles, so you can have a sense of what’s going on in Israel in ways that the mainstream press can’t convey.

It’s edgy stuff, to be sure. And controversial in the extreme. The above-mentioned Nadav Argaman said today that the reforms could lead to civil war. On the streets, you feel something very nasty and menacing in the air. Today, this video captured it more than anything else could … and now you can view it for yourself (at the very top of this page).

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