IDF special ops reservists to refuse service if judicial overhaul successful

'This is about civic courage and sacrifice and what it means to be Israeli,' say authors of a public letter signed by 250 IDF intelligence units' reservists, warning they will no longer volunteer to serve under 'dictatorship'

Etti Abramov|
For years they've served in the special operations world of the Israeli intelligence services, and have never found the need to express political opinions. But, the controversial, planned judicial overhaul has caused them to break that tradition.
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  • In an open letter detailing their misgivings, over 250 intelligence officers expressed their disapproval of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reforms. Going as far as to suggest that they will refuse to serve if the reforms pass.
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    One of the two officers who initiated the letter
    (Photo: Dana Koppel)
    "Staying silent at a time like this is irresponsible. If the bills pass and become law, we will cease serving. We won't be enablers for a dictatorship," the letter read.
    "We voluntarily served with great pride for years, in very complex roles that were key to our success in special operations, and this is an emergency. Should the reforms, which compromise the integrity of our democracy, become law, we will not serve the intelligence community in our reserve role any longer."
    Two intelligence officers with 30 years of experience between them initiated the letter. They have already collected 250 signatures from fellow officers, as well as one general who ultimately withdrew his support following a conversation with IDF Chief-of-Staff Herzi Halevi.
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    טקס סיום קורס קצינים
    טקס סיום קורס קצינים
    IDF Chief-of-Staff Herzi Halevi
    (Photo: The IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
    "We never expected to collect this many signatures," said one officer. "We thought we'd collect like 50 and release the letter. It's overwhelming. Our units are quite small with a rigorous selection process, so these numbers are incredible.
    "The letter came with our realization that staying silent on this issue is not an option. This is not a political endeavor. We just felt we had a lot to say and we couldn't keep silent any longer. We're not trying to predict how this will go over or what the reactions might be," they said.
    "We do believe that there is a time to stand tall and fight by non-violent means and those who stay silent are irresponsible. We feel like the contract was broken. We've been giving it our all for many years, with governments that were responsible and sane, but that trust has now been shattered."
    Did government ministers call you?
    "Many of them don't know about it. We have little interest in conversing with politicians. The intelligence community is our life's work. This letter has been signed by people with over 2,000 years of IDF service between them. Good people only show up when they feel a connection to the values their country holds. This isn't Putin's country."
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    ישיבת הממשלה בנושא תקציב המדינה 2023-2024
    ישיבת הממשלה בנושא תקציב המדינה 2023-2024
    Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
    (Photo: Kobe Gidon)
    Do you not believe it's possible the unit contains people who support the reform?
    "These fine people are from all walks of life. We've all served under a thousand governments, mostly run by Likud, but we've never thought of writing this sort of letter. The people we have here aren't Yes-men."
    That said, not everyone is a fan of the letter. One officer was removed from the unit's WhatsApp group. "I wasn't offended. There are a thousand groups for reservists. Some just prefer to discuss their trip to Iceland than the fact that the country is falling apart."
    Why are your identities hidden?
    "I'm not afraid of other Israelis calling me a traitor or calling my mom a Nazi. This country has taught us how to be bulldogs, but we're also intelligence operatives and we're not too keen on becoming abduction targets for Iranian operatives overseas.
    "But if the reform passes, we'll be in trouble with the International Court of Justice. It'll expose thousands of officers and pilots to prosecution in London or the Netherlands. It's insane."
    Some say the protests do more harm than good.
    "What I see is a dedicated group of people who are unfazed and willing to go the distance. Many have joined up since the letter became known. Many reservists come to us of their own volition, and it's important to say this letter only speaks of reservists. We're not advocating for young enlisted troops to refuse IDF service under any circumstances.
    "The branding they've given us is false. They don't understand who are the people we are speaking to. If there's a serious emergency, we will report for duty, but we won't serve a dictatorship.
    "Israel must remain democratic with a completely independent judiciary. Should the reform move on to a second and third reading in the Knesset, we won't offer our services anymore. In that case, Let Netanyahu's kids volunteer to serve if they wish."
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    The second officer who initiated the letter
    (Photo: Yuval Hen)
    Many will say "What's the big deal? They don't matter."
    "Much of our work as reservists is informal. They call us for the occasional consultation and we do what we can to help. These last few years I've been getting candidates for our intelligence operations, shaping the next generation.
    "There's no classifying these people. They're not classified as left wing or right wing. Some were afraid to sign, others signed just their initials, saying they can't disappoint Halevy, but I understand where you're coming from."
    Has anyone offered to fund you?
    "No, and we didn't ask. This isn't about money. It's about civic courage and sacrifice. It's political, but not in the sense of left or right. This is about civic life and what it means to be Israeli. We've been silent for ten years, and there were instances like when Netanyahu spoke of the 'Arabs flocking to buses' comment and others and we hoped things would get better, but they got worse. No more silence.
    "The letter has created a shitstorm and it's a matter of time before people from Shin-Bet and the police come on board. We won't be this government's useful idiots, ruining everything it took us 75 years to build. Why do I need to serve in special operations but be left alone in front of the ICJ?
    "You want reform? It better be agreed upon by all sides, not just the extreme right."
    How do you think Netanyahu views this letter?
    "He's behind the scenes, but he's being dictated to by Yariv Levin and Simcha Rothman."
    What do you want to see happen tomorrow morning?
    "A complete suspension of all legislative proceedings until a dialogue takes place. We're tired of parasites dictating to us. I've lost friends in operational activities and I will not let their death be in vain.
    "This isn't some weekend protest. It's a struggle for this country's soul. Maybe a huge protest outside the Knesset on Shabbat would be our Tahrir Square," he said, referring to the civic uprising in Egypt in 2011.
    "We don't know or care if Levin and Rothman even know who we are, because this is all hands on deck. Every avenue to oppose the judicial reform must be brought into the fore."
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