AP / August 15, 2023
JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to reassure the Israeli public and army Tuesday of his full support for the military following recent rhetorical attacks on senior security officials by his far-right political allies and divisive son.
Thousands of military pilots and soldiers have vowed not to turn up for reserve duty in protest of Netanyahu’s contentious plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary, sparking a backlash from the Israeli leader’s coalition allies and other ultranationalists.
“The prime minister and defense minister reject any attack on senior security establishment officials and fully back the commanders and soldiers of the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), who are working day and night for the security of Israel,” Netanyahu’s office said.
Growing opposition within the Israeli military to government plans to weaken the Supreme Court poses perhaps the most serious threat to the legislation, which has already spurred unrelenting street demonstrations and fury from former Israeli officials and top business leaders.
Since its founding, the relatively tiny Israeli army has relied on reservists to maintain its operational readiness in a historically hostile region.
Netanyahu’s allies have pushed back against the military’s warnings and criticism of the proposed judicial changes. David Amsalem, a minister in Netanyahu’s government and a member of his right-wing Likud party, attacked chief of staff Gen. Herzi Halevi and air force chief Tomer Bar on Tuesday over the reservist protests.
Halevi and other army officials have warned that turmoil in the military could affect Israel’s preparedness.
In a scathing rant, Amsalem blamed Halevi and Bar for the anti-government protests roiling their ranks and asked they be punished for undermining Israel’s security. “In any normal army, you treat rebels like rebels should be treated,” Amsalem told Israel’s Army Radio.
Amsalem also berated prominent judicial figures and former military officials backing the protest movement, demanding that they “rot in prison until the end of their lives.”
Meanwhile Netanyahu’s son Yair, long a strident voice on radio and social media, called chief of staff Halevi “the most failing and destructive chief of staff in the history of the IDF and the State of Israel.” The post he shared was originally written by a far-right activist on X, formerly known as Twitter, and was later deleted.
In their joint statement, Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said they “give full backing” to the military’s chief of staff and other officers “to ensure the security of the state its citizens.”
Netanyahu and his allies say the changes limit the authority of unelected judges and give elected officials more powers over decision-making. Critics say the move would endanger Israel’s democratic ideals and upend the country’s system of checks and balances by concentrating too much power in the hands of politicians.
The deepening social divisions over the plan have plunged Israel into its gravest domestic crisis.