Dozens of former top Israeli security officials, including the Mossad and Shin Bet, as well as military commanders, sent a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, urging him to halt work on judicial reform. The signatories supported an unprecedented protest by air force reservists. On Saturday evening, half a million protesters took to the streets across the country.
In the list, the elite of the security services and the armed forces Israel she burdened Benjamin Netanyahu “direct responsibility” for a situation that seriously undermines the security of the country. The signatories also accused the prime minister of “completely ignoring the damage to Israeli democracy” caused by pushing the controversial reform.
The bill “shatters the foundations of Israeli society, tears the nation apart, dismantles the IDF,” the letter said.Legislative process violates the social contract that has been in force for 75 years between thousands of reserve commanders and soldiers,” it added. The authors called the reservists’ suspension of their volunteer military service “a defense of Israeli democracy as part of a national responsibility.”
Among the signatories of the letter are three former IDF chiefs, including former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, five former Mossad chiefs, former Shin Bet directors, several former police commissioners and heads of prison services, and many generals.
Government representative on “greatest harm to security and democracy”
A senior official of the ruling coalition, who wished to remain anonymous, told the media, referring to the letter, that “the greatest harm to Israel’s security and democracy would be to subordinate the government and the Knesset to the dictates of the army.”
He assured that “efforts to reach an agreement on the reform will continue until the last minute”, but “in the absence of an agreement, the law will be adopted as planned”.
On Friday, 1,142 Israeli Air Force reservists, including more than 400 pilots, issued a letter announcing that they would suspend volunteer service in the reserve in protest against changes in the judicial system.
Hundreds of reservists from other military branches also announced they would no longer volunteer. Half of Israel’s military pilots are reserve soldiers, and their absence is seen as limiting the country’s combat readiness.
Appeal by former Mossad chief and former Netanyahu adviser
These are not the only votes for stopping work on the bill.
Even if judicial reform is “just and legitimate,” it is being carried out in a way that “threatens the national security of the State of Israel in the immediate term,” wrote Jossi Cohen, former Mossad chief and former adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an article published Sunday in the daily Jedi’ot Acharonot.
Israeli media emphasize that the statement by Cohen, who ended his term as head of Mossad in 2021, is particularly noteworthy because he is considered a person close to Netanyahu. There has been speculation in the past that the prime minister sees him as a potential successor.
Judicial reform debate. Final debate in parliament
The dispute that has been shaking Israel for six months has entered a crucial phase. On Sunday, the final debate began on a bill limiting the Supreme Court’s right to overrule government decisions judges deem “irrational”, i.e. disproportionately focused on the political interest without sufficient consideration of the public interest. Final votes are expected on Monday.
The opposition sees the changes pushed by the government as a threat to democracy. Netanyahu and his allies argue that the new law will restore the balance between the authorities, because, they argue, the judiciary has too much power.
Mass protests across the country
On Saturday evening, half a million Israelis took to the streets across the country to protest against a controversial judicial reform in anticipation of a decisive vote in parliament. Saturday’s protests culminated in the arrival in Jerusalem of tens of thousands of demonstrators who gathered near the Knesset.
The group, which at the beginning of the march consisted of several hundred people, after reaching Jerusalem, according to police estimates, numbered 40,000, while the organizers maintain that there were 90,000 of them. Some of them pitched tents near the Knesset and announced that they would call the camp the Fortress of Democracy and that they planned to stay there until further notice.
Mass demonstrations also took place in 150 places across the country, with traditionally the highest number of people – 170,000 – gathered in Tel Aviv.
What the participants of the protests in Israel say
In front of the Knesset, one of the demonstrators, a teacher who joined the march a few kilometers from Jerusalem, said that the demonstrations were important, but that the army would ultimately decide the outcome of the dispute. He expressed confidence that it is likely that the coalition will be able to push through some of the reforms in the coming days, but, as he put it, “it will be the beginning of the end for Netanyahu.”
Another participant in the rally in front of the parliament, a student from Tel Aviv who, despite the persistent heat, covered the 70-kilometer distance between the two cities with a group of friends from the university, said that “today, the future of Israel is at stake and whether our country will continue to be democratic, we are here to protest against the reform that will change the system of our country.”
In front of the seat of the Knesset, you could also meet supporters of the changes. One said that prior to last year’s parliamentary elections in Israel, there was a consensus that the judiciary system needed reform, and that the defeat of the opposition had made the topic politicized. When asked why so many reservists oppose the changes and refuse to volunteer in the army, which, according to experts, poses a threat to the country’s defense, he replied that ultimately, no matter what decision is made in the coming days, all soldiers are patriots who love Israel, and the dispute over the reform will not affect the security of the country.
Main photo source: PAP/EPA/ABIR SULTAN