Thirty-seven of the 40 reservist fighter pilots from the Israel Air Force’s 69th fighter squadron announced on Sunday that they would not attend training flights this week to protest the government’s proposed judicial overhaul. Instead, they informed their squadron commander in a letter, that they plan to hold a dialogue regarding the issue outside government offices in Jerusalem.
“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 for reserve duty on this day, with the exception of operational activity,” the reservists wrote.
Let’s be clear: Refusal to serve in the IDF – including the IDF reserves – for political reasons is not acceptable, legally or morally. The IDF, which represents all Israelis, should be above politics – including the current political fray over a judicial overhaul. But while, in principle, we oppose insubordination, we recognize that the reservist fighter pilots are people who volunteer to protect this country, and they have every right to stand up for their beliefs.
In fact, it is chutzpah for political parties that represent haredim (the ultra-Orthodox) – such as Shas and United Torah Judaism – and others who evade military service altogether to speak up on this issue. They haven’t earned that right. Similarly, Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, was out of line when he tweeted, “Just a reminder: refusing service in the reserves is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment.”
“Just a reminder: refusing service in the reserves is a criminal offense punishable by imprisonment.”Yair Netanyahu
His service, as his former commander Barak Raz reminded in a tweet on Monday, was not exactly something to brag about.
Still, how should the state respond to the very serious threat by thousands of IDF soldiers and reservists to refuse army service if the legislation passes? One letter from reservists who serve in the elite 8200 Unit garnered more than 500 signatures.
Denounce insubordination, but it is time for judicial reform dialogue
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant was quite right to denounce insubordination, while at the same time calling for a speedy dialogue. “The situation today requires dialogue and quickly,” Gallant said. “We face heavy and complex external challenges. Calls for insubordination hurt the Israeli military’s ability to function and carry out its missions.”
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Herzi Halevi was also correct in speaking out forcefully against the reservists’ intentions. Halevi said that while he was aware of the public debate, he “will not permit harming the ability of the IDF to actualize its fateful mission – safeguarding the nation’s security.”
IAF Commander Maj.-Gen. Tomer Bar was right, too, when he wrote to the reservist pilots urging them to “continue to report to your units for duty, 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.”
National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and a chief of staff, was also right to call on reservists to “keep serving and show up, no matter what. Defend this country, in protests and in service. Don’t lend a hand to insubordination.”
Having said all that, we cannot ignore the sense of despair that many Israelis feel, including those who serve in special units and as fighter pilots, but also regular soldiers and citizens in reserve units who are called up regularly to serve their country.
This is something that cannot be ignored. Developments such as the reservist pilots’ refusal to participate in training puts the entire country in danger. At the moment, it’s just a tiny group of people who serve in the reserves, but we can’t afford to lose them and risk their numbers swelling.
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu really cares about Israel, this should be the alarm bell that spurs him to recalibrate, recalculate and ultimately negotiate, as President Isaac Herzog has implored.
“I call upon those in the opposition to do something simple: Present your alternative in an attempt to reach an agreement,” Netanyahu said at the start of Sunday’s cabinet meeting, adding that with goodwill, an agreement could be reached “within days.”
Mr. Prime Minister, the ball is in your court, not the opposition’s, and now is the time – before it’s too late.