The successful mobilization of hundreds of thousands of Israelis to stand up against the Netanyahu government is proof of one thing: Israelis do not want to end the oppression and killing of Palestinian people.
Israeli society has never seen such ongoing massive anti-government protests. So it is clear that had Israelis wanted to, they could have mobilized around lifting the brutal and inhumane blockade Israel has imposed on Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, or the release of political prisoners or any of the myriad mechanisms Israel uses to oppress and terrorize Palestinians.
However, rather than stand up against any of the sadistic measures their government takes against the Palestinians, Israelis who consider themselves liberal (or even progressive) seem quite content to let the torture of Palestinians go uninterrupted as long as their privileges are not compromised.
The army weighs in
According to a report in The Times of Israel, as well as many other Israeli news outlets, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi has warned the Israeli government that the army is on the verge of reducing the scope of operations due to a large number of reservists refusing to report for duty in protest over their efforts to weaken Israel’s justice system. General Halevi emphasized that “the judicial overhaul is leading to deep and dangerous divisions within the military, as growing numbers of reservists warn they will not serve.”
In addition to the relatively large numbers of reservists refusing to show up, IDF pilots (the most sacred and admired of all) have also spoken out on the issue. Israeli press reports indicate that “Roughly 200 Israeli Air Force reserve pilots reportedly notified their units that they would not be reporting for their weekly flying session.”
This announcement has serious implications for the military because, without weekly training sessions, pilots cannot be certified to fly operational missions. The pilots’ announcement came following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that the government will disregard the calls to halt the reform and plans to move forward with its plan to overhaul the judiciary.
Netanyahu’s veiled threat
Netanyahu’s response to the growing numbers of reservists refusing to show up for duty was to say that, “The phenomenon of soldiers and reservists refusing to obey orders as a protest move against the judicial overhaul plan could destroy the state.” Furthermore, he added, “Surrendering to such a threat is an existential threat to the state of Israel.”
According to The Jerusalem Post, Netanyahu passed the buck, stating at the opening of a recent cabinet meeting that he wants the Army Chief of Staff and other heads of the security apparatus to fight this phenomenon. “I expect the Chief of General Staff and the heads of the security forces to fight firmly the [service] refusal [of reservist fighter pilots],” he said.
He thus conveniently ignored the fact that these pilots are volunteers who give the Air Force one day of their working week, year after year.” This piece makes the pilots seem so selfless, when in fact, their entire career – glamorous as it seems in the eyes of Israelis – was built on killing people who have no way to defend themselves. And they love every minute of it. Still, when pilots speak, Israelis listen.
Netanyahu then added a veiled threat; “The use of a refusal to obey orders as a political tool starts on the Left but can move to the Right.” In other words, the message that the prime minister is sending those who use the tool of refusal to serve in the military is that if and when the day comes when settlers need to be removed, or some other political decision is made that favors the Israeli “Left,” then the other side, the Israeli Right, will do the same. In Netanyahu’s cabinet, there is at least one member who not only promoted the refusal of the Right to obey orders but was caught with 185 gallons of gasoline, planning to bomb one of the country’s main highways. This is none other than the finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich.
Israeli soldiers and soldiers are happy to serve
Still, what is clear from the message sent by these refusers is that they can mobilize and stand up to what they feel is wrong. In response to criticism, one pilot said he was, in fact, doing his duty by refusing to serve and participating in the protest to curb the judicial reform. So, clearly, one can claim that they see no reason to demand an end to the apartheid regime, no reason to demand an end to the bombing of Palestinians in Gaza, and no need to stop bombing targets in Syria. If they did see any of these issues as a problem, they could bring these criminal acts to a halt. But, sadly, they are happy to serve the brutal regime called Israel.
Israelis on the street are calling for democracy. Privileged citizens of a nation that denied democracy to Palestinians are protesting for fear that their democracy is in danger. This is not a new phenomenon; we have seen this in the United States, in Australia, and other settler colonial states.
Internationally, the Biden administration and the British prime minister have stated that they are concerned about the judicial reforms because they fear for Israeli democracy. The debate on this issue is expanding, and while their support for democracy is heartfelt, pretending that there is a democracy called Israel and that it is in danger only diminishes the chances of democracy becoming a reality in Palestine.
We may expect that Netanyahu will find a way to appease the protesters. It is likely that a compromise is reached on the judicial reform, and the protests will quiet down until they are completely gone and Israelis all return to Netanyahu’s warm embrace.
Feature photo | Illustration by MintPress News
Miko Peled is MintPress News contributing writer, published author and human rights activist born in Jerusalem. His latest books are”The General’s Son. Journey of an Israeli in Palestine,” and “Injustice, the Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five.”