Ex-Shin Bet agents call for halt to overhaul as military reservists renew rebellion

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A group of hundreds of Shin Bet veterans called on Monday for the government to immediately halt its freshly revived push to overhaul the judiciary, citing the “critical damage” it will cause to the country’s security.

The protest came a day after the coalition renewed its plan to advance the contentious legislation, whereupon reservists in elite IDF units said they would stop volunteering for duty if it was passed, in the latest revolt by members of the defense establishment.

“Continuing with the legislation will tear an irreparable rift in Israeli society and will critically damage national resilience and the Israeli security system,” read the letter from the Shin Bet veterans, according to Channel 13 news.

Citing their professional experience, the former agents said that the legislative fight was creating this split as tensions are already heightened. The northern West Bank was rocked last week by a deadly Palestinian terror attack and rampages by Israeli settler mobs, and tensions with Iran and its proxies remain high.

The signatories urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant to immediately halt the legislation “to allow the security system to direct all its resources to dealing with the security challenges that are intensifying at this time on several fronts.”

On Sunday, an organization representing veterans of elite units said that 80 military intelligence reservists had added their names to the list of the hundreds who had already said they would stop volunteering for duty, and that there were many more who vowed to join if the government continued to advance the legislation.

In addition, hundreds of military doctors said Sunday that any unilateral move by the government to pass the overhaul “will lead to drastic and unilateral measures by the reservist doctors.”

The announcements came hours after the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee convened to renew discussions on the so-called reasonableness bill, formally restarting the government’s push to radically remake the judicial system.

Netanyahu has reportedly decided to push through a coalition bill to broadly outlaw judicial review of the “reasonableness” of government or ministerial decisions.

The Shin Bet group noted that there was a growing number of army reservists who said they would refuse to volunteer for specialist duty if the government continued its push to curtail judicial review of its decisions.

“Reservists from the Special Operations Division, Unit 8200 and military doctors have announced an end to volunteering for the reserves if the government does not immediately stop the coup d’état legislation,” the group wrote, referring to elite combat units, the secretive cyberwarfare unit, and the medical corps. “We are hearing about additional reservists from other units who are going to join [the protest].”

Unlike most reservists who are called up for duty with a formal order from the IDF, soldiers in the Special Operations Division and cyberwarfare units show up for duty more frequently and in a voluntary manner, often not during an emergency, due to the nature of their positions.

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Calls among IDF reservists to refuse to serve due to the government’s legislative efforts roiled the military earlier this year as the overhaul was first announced and advanced, growing in number even as they were condemned by senior politicians in both the opposition and the coalition.

In March, hundreds of officers and soldiers in the Military Intelligence’s Special Operations Division and cyberwarfare units said they were ceasing to show up for volunteer duty in response to the government’s plans to radically alter the judicial system.

Speaking at his Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting on Monday, opposition leader Yair Lapid railed at the coalition “reasonableness” bill and defended the reserve soldiers who threatened to stop volunteering, saying they were not obliged to serve the country if it was no longer a democracy.

“People saying they will not serve in the army of a non-democratic country isn’t refusal. As long as the State of Israel is democratic, we’ll continue to serve. I reject attaching the word refusal to this situation.”

Labor Party leader MK Merav Michaeli backed Lapid, saying reservists who refuse to serve are “fighting for the country.”

But at his own faction meeting, National Union chief Benny Gantz said his party remains opposed to reservists refusing to serve, even if in protest against the coalition’s “judicial coup.”

“We appreciate the people who express their concern,” he said, but “we are against refusal [to serve].”

According to the text of the bill — presented as an amendment to the existing Basic Law: The Judiciary — the courts, including the High Court of Justice, would no longer be able to hold hearings over the reasonableness of a government decision, or invalidate decisions made by the prime minister, the cabinet, ministers, or other elected officials merely based on their reasonableness.

The court will still be permitted to use the reasonableness yardstick for decisions made by unelected officials.

“The law to cancel reasonableness will in practice eliminate democracy in Israel, and will allow the government to pass any decision and any appointment,” the reservists said in an open letter Sunday.

“The day after that, they will fire the attorney general and every moral gatekeeper,” the reservists charged.

The letter noted the various threats by “the leaders of the coup calling for the execution of pilots, military personnel, the attorney general and the Supreme Court president; they call us SA companies and nests of terror; they support the erasure of [Palestinian] villages.”

Leader of the National Unity Party MK Benny Gantz leads a faction meeting of the National Unity Party at the Knesset, on June 26, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The reservists said that the overhaul had additionally caused “enormous and long-term damage” by reducing motivation to serve in sensitive positions in military intelligence, the Shin Bet and Mossad.

“Without democracy, there will be no army, there will be no security, and this will be the end of the State of Israel,” the reservists said. “We will defend with our bodies and souls — in a nonviolent way — democracy and the gatekeepers of Israel.”

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