Opponents of the current government’s policies stepped up demonstrations and civil disobedience around the country for a “Day of Resistance” yesterday, the morning after a law limiting the cases in which Supreme Court justices can cite their idea of reasonableness to strike down government decisions cleared an early hurdle.
Those who support the law that passed a first reading on Monday night say that reasonableness is not something written into law and is therefore too subjective a reason for courts to be able to overrule elected officials’ decisions, undermining representative democracy.
The judicial reform’s opponents, however, say that the judges need something beyond the written law that they can cite in edge cases that the law does not address – such as the likely first test of the post-reasonableness era, repeatedly convicted felon and Shas leader Arye Deri’s return as interior minister.
These opponents feel passionately that this creates an opening for governments to destroy democracy and plunge Israel into authoritarianism. They feel so strongly about this that the protests are flowing over into areas that they shouldn’t be touching – like the country’s defense.
Israeli protests against judicial reform are spilling into security issues
Earlier this year, opponents of the government, including groups of protesters from elite units such as Air Force pilots and the 8200 intelligence unit, threatened that they would stop volunteering for reserve duty. These threats intensified to the point that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said the judicial reform, in the form it took at the time, endangered national security. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired him, then – after unprecedented protests – paused the reform and un-fired him.
Ultimately, as The Jerusalem Post reporter Yonah Jeremy Bob reported at the time, the number of reservists declining to report for duty for political reasons was vanishingly small.
Now, the calls to refuse orders to serve reserve duty have come up yet again.
Hundreds of members of Israel’s cyberattack unit say they will not serve, and naval commandos joined the threats.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak said, “I expect the pilots, the Military Intelligence Special Operations Division, to all repeat their warning: Netanyahu, watch out, the minute you try to turn the first reading into an actual law, we will not serve a dictatorship. Period.”
These calls to shirk reserve duty are highly dangerous and potentially destructive for Israel, which is under constant threat on all sides. We have seen examples of this from the beginning of 2023, with rockets from Palestinian Islamic Jihad, attempts by terrorists in Jenin to emulate their Gazan counterparts, and a quiet Hezbollah invasion in the form of tents on Israel’s side of the Lebanese border, plus an Iran that keeps plugging away at its nuclear program while sponsoring the aforementioned groups threatening Israel.
Someone fully aware of all of these challenges who can also relate to the protesters is National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi.
In the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee this week, Hanegbi recounted that he was once the leader of a protest movement that used extreme tactics. For 23 days in 1982, he and his allies barricaded themselves in a memorial in Yamit, an Israeli town in the Sinai Desert, in an attempt to stop Israel from giving the peninsula to Egypt.
Hanegbi told MKs that he had been “convinced that the peace agreement with Egypt would mean the end of Israel because we would be returning to indefensible borders.” When the protests failed, he felt “distress and concern.”
Weeks later, “when the order came to report for reserve duty for the First Lebanon War, I did not think for a moment that I would not go,” Hanegbi said.
The protesters abhor this government’s attempts to change the judicial status quo, and their demonstrations, as long as they’re within the limits of the law, must be allowed, as befits any strong democracy. However, they should take a cue from Hanegbi, who felt deeply betrayed by the government but still saw the State and people of Israel as worthy of defending from their enemies.
Hopefully, despite the massive media attention that calls to refuse orders receive, the reality will be similar to last time these threats cropped up. Reservists must realize, to paraphrase Shakespeare’s King Lear, that that way madness lies.