1,142 Air Force reservists to end volunteer duty in protest of judicial overhaul
Conflict in Israel'Broken-hearted' to take this step, reservist says

1,142 Air Force reservists to end volunteer duty in protest of judicial overhaul

Hundreds of pilots, drone operators, air traffic control officers and others call on government to ‘reach broad agreements’ or they will suspend their service

IAF F-15D fighter jets simulate a dogfight during in an independence day airshow, in Tel Aviv on April 26, 2023 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
IAF F-15D fighter jets simulate a dogfight during in an independence day airshow, in Tel Aviv on April 26, 2023 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

More than 1,100 Israeli Air Force reservists, including hundreds of pilots, issued a letter on Friday announcing that they will suspend their volunteer reserve duty in protest of the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.

The announcement was the latest to send shockwaves through the Israel Defense Forces, which is struggling to stem a growing flood of reserve troops dropping out of volunteer duty to protest the overhaul, as defense officials warned the growing phenomenon could affect national preparedness.

In the (Hebrew) letter addressed to Knesset members, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi and IAF chief Maj. Gen. Tomer Bar, the 1,142 active duty reservists said the government’s controversial plans would lead them to halt their volunteer duty.

The reservists called on the government to “reach broad agreements” with regard to the judicial overhaul, and “strengthen the trust in the judicial system by all parts of society, and preserve its independence.”

Most Israelis who complete their mandatory military national service are required to attend annual reserve duty, but those who’ve served in special units — including pilots — are expected to volunteer to continue carrying out the same duties while in the reserves, a commitment they usually take upon themselves. Due to the nature of their positions, special forces troops and pilots in reserves show up more frequently for training and missions.

Many reservists have been warning in recent months they will not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which some charge the country will become if the government’s overhaul plans are realized.
IAF F-15D fighter jets simulate a dogfight during in an independence day airshow, in Tel Aviv on April 26, 2023 (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

“Legislation that affects the Jewish or democratic character of the State of Israel must be carried out through negotiations and broad public agreement,” the 1,142 reservists said.

“Legislation that allows the government to act in an extremely unreasonable manner will harm the security of the State of Israel, will cause a loss of trust and a violation of my consent to continue risking my life, and will lead, with deep sorrow and no choice, to suspending my volunteer reserve duty,” they added.

Several of the signatories who spoke to Channel 12 news anonymously said they were “broken-hearted” to take the step but that Israel was facing “an unprecedented crisis of trust in the leadership, dragging us into the abyss.”

“We’ve got to fight for a country that our children will want to live in,” they said, opposing “a leadership with unbridled power and an extreme agenda.”

“We lived through all the governments and all the crises and we never went for such a move,” they noted.

Some blamed IDF chief Halevi, who they said “should have banged his fist on the table” to implore the government to stop. “We expect him to do so now.”

Another pilot told Army Radio that “we understand the security implications, but we also understand the enormous risks of a regime change.”

The letter was signed by 235 fighter pilots, 98 transport pilots, 89 helicopter pilots, 173 drone operators, 124 air traffic control officers, 167 IAF headquarters staff, 91 training staff, 80 members of the elite search and rescue Unit 669, and 85 members of the Shaldag commando unit.

On Thursday, Maj. Gen. Bar said the IAF was continuing to operate as usual despite calls by reservists to not show up for volunteer duty in protest of the overhaul, but added that the current discourse was causing great damage that will take “years to fix.”

“The harsh statements that have been made toward the army and the Air Force, standing and reserves, in recent days, have no place in society and they have caused great damage to the cohesion of the force. I strongly condemn them,” he said.

Protests against the judicial overhaul have roiled the IDF for months, with hundreds of military reservists having announced in recent days they will no longer volunteer to carry out their specialized duties — among them air force pilots — if the government advances its plans.

The threats have ramped up as the government pushes a bill restricting the use of the so-called “reasonableness” judicial test, part of its controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary.

Also Thursday, the IDF slammed a video circulated online, including by ministers, depicting IAF pilots refusing to help ground troops attacked by enemy forces due to the formers’ perceived support for the government’s plans to overhaul the judicial system.

In a statement, military spokesman Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari said the staged video aimed to cause “internal incitement” within the IDF and should be condemned.

Meanwhile, defense officials and politicians on both sides of the aisle have warned that the mass refusals could make Israel more vulnerable to outside threats, as the readiness of the military, particularly the IAF, would be negatively impacted.

The military has said that it would discipline or potentially dismiss active-duty soldiers who refuse to show up for duty when ordered to, but stressed that no action would be taken against reservists who only threaten not to show up.

It is unclear what measures would be taken against reservists who do not show up for voluntary duty. The IDF said it would handle each case individually, including possible suspension, dismissal, or jail sentences.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report. PJC

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