In a prime-time televised speech on Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the anti-judicial reform protests that have rocked the Israel Defense Forces in recent weeks, while vowing to “maintain everyone’s rights.”
Netanyahu spoke as hundreds of demonstrators gathered ahead of a march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as part of a “Night of Disruption” declared in protest of the Knesset’s initial approval of a bill to limit the use by courts of the “reasonableness” standard.
Rebuffing critics of his proposed changes to the judicial system, Netanyahu posited that his amendment would “strengthen democracy and not endanger it.”
“As prime minister of all citizens, I aspire to have a broad understanding regarding the amendment to the judicial system,” said Netanyahu, explaining that his coalition made suggestions to the opposition for three consecutive months. “Even if we do not have a partner, the coalition exercises responsibility,” he claimed.
“The coalition’s door will always be open to the opposition and to you, the citizens of Israel. … We are one people with one destiny. We have no other country. We are brothers.”
The prime minister’s speech came in response to the announcement by volunteer IDF reservists, including pilots, that they would not report for duty if the government continues to push through a bill to restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn laws and government decisions based on whether or not the judges think they were “reasonable.”
On Wednesday, the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved the bill for final readings. With nine lawmakers voting in favor and seven opposed, the amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary will now head back to the plenum for the second and third readings needed for it to become law.
In Thursday’s speech, Netanyahu stated that he expects “zero tolerance” against the “very dangerous phenomenon” of refusing army service.
“In the past, many citizens objected to the Oslo Accords, the disengagement from Gush Katif [to] a government that was established by not adhering to promises … and no one threatened to refuse service,” he said, adding that “every responsible citizen must object to this.”
Earlier this week, Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi met with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to discuss the issue of refusals to serve. In a statement, the Defense Ministry announced Gallant and Halevi briefed Netanyahu on the “security situation and the competence of the IDF.”
“It is impossible for there to be a group within the army that threatens the elected government [and says] if you don’t do as we wish, we will turn off the switch on security. … No democratic country can accept such a dictate,” Netanyahu has said previously.
This week, hundreds of reserve members declared they would continue to observe their responsibilities to the nation. “Our love for the homeland and the people of Israel is 10 times greater than any political consideration of one kind or another,” the reservists wrote in a petition addressed to Halevi.