Netanyahu calls on the military chief to curb the reservists’ protest

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged the military chief of staff to stem a wave of domestic protests against a controversial government plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Netanyahu’s comments come as Israel is mired in a major crisis that has sent tens of thousands of people onto the streets to protest every week for the past two months. Disagreement over Netanyahu’s plans to change the legal system has not spared the country’s military, its most trusted institution, where many reservists have vowed not to show up for duty if they see regime change imminent.

As of Sunday, more than 700 elite Air Force, special forces and Mossad officers said they would stop volunteering for duty. The typically taboo conscientious objection, mandatory for most Jews and held in high esteem by the Jewish majority, underscores how deeply the overhaul plan has divided Israel.

Netanyahu has rejected a compromise plan proposed by the country’s ceremonial president that aims to defuse the crisis. In remarks to his cabinet, he made no mention of reaching an agreement with opponents, saying he would not accept “anarchy” and listing calls for his security chiefs to stop the roadblocks by protesters, incitement against him and his ministers and curbing the refusal to serve by a growing number of reservists.

“I expect the military chief of staff and heads of security services departments to aggressively combat conscientious objection. There is no place for conscientious objection in public discourse,” he said. “A state that wants to exist cannot tolerate such phenomena, and neither will we.”

The military had no immediate comment on Netanyahu’s remarks. The military’s chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Herzl Halevi, has reportedly warned Netanyahu that the reservists’ protest risks jeopardizing the military’s capabilities. He has promised to make sure that isn’t the case and to keep the military out of the public debate about the overhaul.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted in response that if Netanyahu suspended the overhaul, the reservists would end their conscientious objection.

The protest within the military comes as Israel is locked in a year-long round of fighting with the Palestinians and Israel’s nemesis Iran is pushing ahead with its nuclear program. Israel says Iran is developing a nuclear bomb — an accusation Tehran denies.

Netanyahu said Sunday the law changes would be carried out responsibly while protecting the fundamental rights of all Israelis. His government – the country’s most right-wing ever – says the overhaul is intended to correct an imbalance that has given the courts too much power and prevented lawmakers from carrying out the will of voters.

Critics say it will upend Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and propel the country toward authoritarianism. They also say there could be a chance for Netanyahu to evade conviction in his corruption trial.


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