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Netanyahu slams refusal by soldiers to serve as existential threat

“This will not be allowed to gain a foothold,” said the Israeli prime minister.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (both seated) attend a Scroll of Esther reading for Purim at a synagogue at the Beit Horon Border Police base, March 6, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir (both seated) attend a Scroll of Esther reading for Purim at a synagogue at the Beit Horon Border Police base, March 6, 2023. Photo by Kobi Gideon/GPO.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday night described as an existential threat the refusal by reserve soldiers to show up for duty in protest of the government’s judicial reform program.

“Refusal to serve threatens the foundation of our existence, and it must have no place in our ranks,” Netanyahu said after attending a Purim megillah reading at a Border Police base in the Jewish community of Beit Horon. “Israeli society has always condemned those refusing to serve. This will not be allowed to gain a foothold,” he added.

“I, along with the people of Israel, greatly appreciate your actions, your efforts, your heroism and your sacrifice. May God grant you success and that you watch over the country, yourselves and each other. Happy Purim to you,” concluded Netanyahu.

The prime minister was joined by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.

Netanyahu’s comments dovetailed with those made on Sunday by Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who denounced a decision by reserve fighter pilots to boycott mandatory training exercises in protest of the 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 Israel Air Force reserve pilots announced that they would skip a day of combat training.

“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.

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.”

Meanwhile, Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity Party chief Benny Gantz on Monday rejected any negotiations over the judicial reform proposal unless the accompanying legislative process grinds to a complete halt.

It came after President Isaac Herzog told a gathering of some 100 municipal officials that a compromise judicial reform proposal was nearly complete, and called on lawmakers to find common ground.

“We are closer than ever to the possibility of an outline. There are agreements behind the scenes on most things,” he continued. “Now it depends on our national leadership, the coalition and the opposition, who need to rise to the occasion and understand the terrible alternative and put the country and its citizens above everything else.”

Lapid has rejected numerous overtures to hold talks under the president’s auspices without preconditions, from officials ranging from the prime minister to Justice Minister Yariv Levin to Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman.

“For eight weeks we have been calling for negotiations. We are bringing the reform to the Knesset to decide,” Netanyahu said on Sunday. “I call upon those in the opposition to do something simple: Present your alternative in an attempt to reach an agreement.”

The premier added that with goodwill an agreement could be reached “within days.”

Ben-Gvir warned on Monday that the potential for political violence in the country is real, and placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the opposition.

Anti-judicial reform demonstrations turned violent last Wednesday, which protest leaders dubbed a “Day of National Disruption.” They held marches throughout the country and strikes at businesses and schools. They also laid out plans to block roads and make “house calls” to the private residences of coalition lawmakers.

In response, the Israel Security Agency (Shin Bet) will take over responsibility for protecting Netanyahu’s wife and sons, the Ministerial Committee for Shin Bet Affairs decided on Sunday.

The Prime Minister’s Office requested the protection following the March 1 incident in which the prime minister’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, had to be rescued by hundreds of police after being trapped for hours by anti-reform protesters in Tel Aviv.

Protester organizers have announced another “Day of National Disruption,” also dubbed a “Day of Resistance,” against the reforms for this Thursday.

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