Around 300 Israeli military doctors in reserve units told the defense minister on Monday they will refuse to serve if the government pursues disputed legislation that would see the highest court stripped of most of its powers.
Israeli lawmakers on Sunday began debating a bill that would limit the High Court's powers, rebooting a judicial reform instigated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's religious-nationalist coalition that has stirred mass protests.
The coalition says its goal is to balance the powers of the government, legislature and judiciary by reining in a High Court they see as too interventionist. Those against the move say it would erode democracy by removing key checks and balances on government powers.
'Violating the basic contract between us and the state'
In a letter to the defense minister, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, doctors said they could not continue to volunteer for service when the government was "violating the basic contract between us and the state.
"If there are no gatekeepers and there is no effective judicial review," the letter said, "we will not be able to trust our commanders when we are sent to military missions."
"We won't serve a dictatorship," it added.
Anti-government demonstrations had prompted Netanyahu to suspend his judicial drive in March to allow compromise talks with opposition parties. He declared those talks fruitless last week and ordered some of the legislation to be revived.
Military reservists said they had continued to report for duty as they were giving time for compromise talks to produce results, but renewed calls to refuse call-ups when the talks broke down.
The proposed changes, which include curbs on the court's ability to rule against the government, sparked frequent street protests before the March suspension. But they have continued weekly, with anti-reform activists blocking a major Tel Aviv highway on Saturday night.
Governing coalition lawmakers have indicated that the new bill will be a far softer version of previous proposals that had sought to almost totally eliminate the High Court's power to rule against the executive.
The opposition, however, says the new bill would still open the door to corruption.
The proposed judicial reform has also stirred Western concern for Israel's democratic health and spooked investors. Critics see it as an attempt to curb court independence by Netanyahu, who is on trial on graft charges that he denies.