Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant denounced on Sunday a decision by reserve fighter pilots to boycott mandatory training exercises in protest of the government’s judicial reform plans.
“The situation today requires dialogue and quickly. We face heavy and complex external challenges, and any call to refuse orders harms the functioning of the Israel Defense Forces and its ability to carry out its tasks,” said Gallant.
Earlier in the day, a group of 37 Israeli Air Force reserve pilots announced that they would skip a day of combat training this week.
“On Wednesday, March 8, we will devote our time to discourse and thinking for the sake of democracy and the unity of the people, and therefore we will not report to reserve duty on this day, with the exception of operational activity. During the rest of the week, we will report [for duty] as planned,” the reservists wrote in a letter.
They represent nearly the entire 40-pilot strength of the IAF’s 69 “Hammers” Squadron, which operates F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”) fighters.
Last week, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi for a second time came out against reservists’ threats. Halevi said that he was “aware of the public debate and disagreements,” but “will not permit harming the ability of the IDF to actualize its fateful mission—guarding the nation’s security.”
On Friday, IAF head Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar sent a letter to reserve pilots and navigators calling on them not to abandon their responsibilities to the state should the judicial reforms become law.
“My expectation as IAF commander, like the expectation of the commanders alongside me, is that you will continue to report to your units for duty, that you will continue to serve and fulfill your commitment to your unit, to your subordinates and to your commanders, to the State of Israel, to its security and the protection of its citizens. You [must] show commitment and responsibility for the cohesion of the ranks, the soldiers and the brotherhood of fighters. There is no substitute for you all,” Bar wrote.
Israeli opposition leaders on Sunday again rejected overtures for negotiations under the auspices of the president.
In the latest back and forth, the main leaders pushing the reform—Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman, who chairs the Knesset committee dealing with the legislation—on Sunday accepted a proposal by the Israel Manufacturers Association, the Chambers of Commerce and groups representing tech companies and building contractors for talks starting on Tuesday at the President’s Residence, without preconditions.
“From the very first day we said we were in favor of a dialogue in an attempt to reach an understanding on the reform and at least to reduce the controversy,” the leaders of the reform said in a joint statement. “We respond to the call for talks without preconditions and call on others in the opposition to respond to the initiate and attend talks with the president on Tuesday.”
Opposition leaders, however, swiftly rejected the proposal, demanding that the reforms’ legislative process be frozen.
Earlier on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been barred by the attorney general from discussing the reform due to a possible conflict of interest with his ongoing criminal trial, called on the opposition to present their own proposal for judicial overhaul.
“For eight weeks we have been calling for negotiations. We are bringing the reform to the Knesset to decide,” he said at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting. “I call upon those in the opposition to do something simple: Present your alternative in an attempt to reach an agreement.”
The premier said that with goodwill an agreement could be reached “within days.”
Protester organizers have announced a “Day of National Disruption” against the reforms for Thursday, following up on one that turned violent last Wednesday.