The schism for judicial reform in Israel reaches the army | International

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The social and political schism that Israel is going through due to the judicial reform plan promoted by the government of Benjamin Netanyahu has reached the most respected institution in Israel, the army, considered a kind of social cement in a country crossed by numerous internal fractures. After two months of demonstrations in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis have participated, hundreds of reservists have announced in open letters that they will carry out only the minimum tasks or will not participate in training.

The rebellion affects combat units or the 8200 (which monitors enemy communications), but is concentrated in the Air Force. There, 37 of the 40 F-15i fighter pilots that make up Squadron 69 announced last week in a letter that they would skip training flights to dedicate that time to "dialogue and reflection for the good of democracy and national unity." ”. The seven who were supposed to do it this Wednesday will go to the base to talk with their commanders, while the exercise will continue with substitutes.

The 69 is a symbolic squadron: it was one of those that participated in the 2007 bombing of a nuclear reactor in Syria (which Israel recognized 11 years later) and would foreseeably be involved in a similar operation in Iran, if carried out, since it is the one that operates on targets farther away and more frequently.

"You have to pass a message and this decision is one of the ways to pass it on," he told the newspaper under anonymity. Yedioth Ahronot a pilot, who assured that hundreds of reservists are "very concerned about the situation." “Some for the issue of legal protection under international law; others, by orders and the chain of command, ”he added after assuring that many of the conversations with his colleagues are about where each one sets the red line. Concern in international law refers to the possibility that military pilots who carry out bombing raids could end up being tried in international courts for war crimes if the approval of the reform meant that the Israeli judicial system would be considered incapable of prosecuting them for lack of of independence.

"Major concern"

In another coup of the protest, the last 10 living former Air Force chiefs — who have held the post since 1953, five years after the birth of Israel, until last April — have published an open letter to Netanyahu and his Defense Minister, Yoav Gallant, in which they claim to follow "with great concern the processes that are taking place in the State of Israel and in the Air Force."

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"We are trembling before the consequences of these processes and the serious and concrete danger that it represents for national security," they write before asking the prime minister to stop the judicial reform proposal, approved last month in first reading by Parliament. The plan aims to weaken the Supreme Court and allow Parliament to overturn some of its decisions, as well as modify the system of choosing its judges to one in which the government could impose its candidates. Its promoters, headed by the Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin, defend the need to give more power to democratically elected institutions against a Supreme Court that they accuse of operating in an ideological and excessively interventionist manner.

The army is, by far, the most valued institution in the country, with an 85% approval rating, according to the latest index, from last year, of the think tank Israel Institute for Democracy. The next one, the Presidency, is at 62%. In addition to its sacrosanct nature in a country born at war and which has had one in almost every decade of its history, it plays a relatively unifying role between social classes, family origins and degree of religiosity, given its long obligatory nature. Military service is generally 32 months for men and 24 for women. Ultra-Orthodox and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship (a total of one third of the population) are exempt, although some serve.

Refusals to serve are often socially punished. They are in the minority and generally focus on deployment in the Palestinian territories, so as not to participate in the military occupation. In 2005, some soldiers refused to participate in the withdrawal of settlers and soldiers from Gaza. “This is completely different,” explains Amijai Cohen, a PhD in Law from Yale University (USA) and a researcher at the Israel Institute for Democracy think tank. "The difference is that it is on a much larger scale, it is organized and in elite units, reaching the backbone of the army: the Air Force, special operations and intelligence."

It is no coincidence that the Air Force is spearheading the protest. Half of the flying squadrons are not made up of professional soldiers, but of reservists who fly once a week, until they turn 50, while they continue their working lives in the civilian field. The Air Force makes up a third of the army and has a sort of secular Ashkenazi (Jews originating from central and eastern Europe) elite status that corresponds to the backbone of the protest, as some members of the government have contemptuously suggested. .

“They are not patriots, they are not The salt of the earth (an expression to refer to the Israeli ideal), they are not Zionists, they are not the best among us, they are not wonderful, nor are the people of Israel [...] I am not interested in what they did in the past for the State, the nursery workers also do a lot for the country”, the Minister of Public Diplomacy, Galit Distel Atbaryan, tweeted on Monday. The head of Communications, Shlomo Karhi, has pointed out that "there are times when you have to stand firmly before the hegemony and the people who are perceived as the rulers" and used a biblical metaphor -linked to the Jewish holiday of Purim, which is celebrated these days—to send “to hell” the “insolent” rebel reservists and stress that the reform “will go ahead”.

The Defense Minister has come to his defense: “Anyone who looks down on soldiers in the Israeli army – from the left or from the right – has no place in public service. I appreciate and support the reservists, regardless of their political views." In addition, he asked for a dialogue "quickly" to reach a compromise agreement on the reform.

Netanyahu was less conciliatory. On Monday, at a Purim event in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beit Horon, he called the refusal to comply with orders an "existential" threat to Israel. He also tweeted a reservist photo of him in a combat unit with the caption: “When we get called up for the reserve, we always show up. We are a nation." This is the thought expressed by another 6,000 reservists, who define themselves as belonging to "all military ranks, social sectors and political opinions", in a public petition in which they underline their willingness to continue serving with the army, "despite the dispute in civil society, out of a sense of service and in recognition of the importance of defending the homeland”.

The Israeli president, Isaac Herzog, who has been mediating between the government and the opposition for weeks, has once again shown optimism this Monday, assuring that the "possibility of a framework agreement is closer than ever" thanks to the negotiations "behind the scenes ”. On February 20, he said that an understanding could be reached "in the next few days."

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