Israel’s parliament was pushing ahead on Monday with plans to vote on the first part of a judicial overhaul that has sharply divided the country, with thousands of military reservists threatening to refuse to report for duty.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government says it is determined to pass the bill as early as Monday, despite widespread calls to find a compromise from those at home and abroad, including US President Joe Biden, and warnings by Israel’s military that the domestic unrest could have significant national-security implications.

More than 1000 members of the air force, including hundreds of fighter pilots, as well as hundreds of members of elite commando and intelligence units have said in letters sent to their commanders in recent days that they won’t report for duty if the current bill is passed. The air force is integral to Israel’s frequent military operations and reservist pilots must maintain a rigorous training regimen to be considered fit for duty.

Israeli military chief of staff Herzi Halevi the warned on Sunday in a letter to soldiers that the military’s unity was breaking ­because of disagreements on the overhaul. He warned of a situation in which infantry troops might think they can’t rely on ­pilots to support them.

The protesting reservists say what they are opposing isn’t a political decision, but attempts by what they view as an extremist government to undermine the country’s democracy and seize unrestricted power.

On Saturday, dozens of former top security officials, including former heads of the military, foreign spy agency Mossad and domestic security agency the Shin Bet, wrote to Mr Netanyahu, supporting the reservist protest and warning the Prime Minister that his policies are eroding the social cohesion required to maintain a “people’s army” model such as the one in Israel.

The bill aims to restrict the ­Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government or executive decisions on the basis of reasonability, which critics say will open the way for government corruption by preventing the court from stopping the appointment of corrupt officials or allowing the government to sack people who oppose its policies. Supporters say the reasonableness standard is too nebulous and allows the courts to overrule the will of elected officials for political purposes.

Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected a compromise on Sunday proposed by the country’s main labour union, the Histadrut, which was under pressure to call a general strike on Monday. While no decision was announced by the Histadrut on Sunday night, a forum of the country’s largest companies said they would close their businesses on Monday in order to pressure the government to halt the legislation and reopen talks with the opposition.

Mr Netanyahu, who was hospitalised overnight on Saturday to be fitted for a pacemaker, said ­efforts were being made to reach a compromise on the bill that could be supported by opposition MPs. He also said he would be healthy enough to attend the vote.

President Isaac Herzog visited Mr Netanyahu in the hospital and urged him to seek a compromise. “This is a time of emergency,” Mr Herzog said. “An agreement must be reached.”

Mr Netanyahu has accused the military reservists of being ­anti-democratic. Some members of his coalition have said it amounts to a “military coup”.

“In a proper democracy, the deciding hand isn’t that which holds a weapon, but the hand that places the ballot in the ballot box,” Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have protested for 29 straight weeks against the overhaul. In a country of 9.3 million, protest organisers said more than half a million people attended rallies at the weekend, including 220,000 in Tel Aviv and more than 100,000 in Jerusalem.

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Article source: The Australian / The Wall Street journal | Dov Lieber | 25.7.23

2024-05-08 07:04:10.000000