Israel reservists refusing call-ups for some duties

Israel reservists refusing call-ups for some duties

JERUSALEM - A group of Israelis describing themselves as reservists in elite military and intelligence units said they would not turn up for some duties from Sunday Mar 19 escalating protests at the planned judicial overhaul by the hard-right government.

Members of the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition, which wields a Knesset majority, say they want Bills that would limit the authority of the Supreme Court to be written into law by April 2.

The plan has raised concerns for Israel's democratic health at home and abroad. As ratification nears, demonstrations have spiraled, the shekel has slipped and national security veterans shy away from public exposure have voiced fears.

In a letter circulated to the Israeli media, 450 protesters describing themselves as volunteer reservists from military special forces and another 200 as volunteer reservist offensive cyber operators, including Mossad and Shin Bet intelligence agencies, said they were refusing call-ups.

It was difficult to assess the impact of the protest because of the fact that Reuters could not verify the identities of the signatories and secrecy around the units they said they belong to.

We have no contract with a dictator. The letter said that we would be happy to volunteer when the democracy is safeguarded.

The military did not make a statement. Replacing Mossad and Shin Bet did not respond immediately to queries by Reuters.

Netanyahu calls the judicial overhaul a restoration of balance between the branches of government. Critics see a gambit by the prime minister, who is under trial on corruption charges that he denies, to subordinate the courts to the executive.

A Knesset review committee was to discuss a Bill that would give the coalition more control over appointments to the bench before final voting sessions in the plenum.

It could foster corruption and imperil judicial independence, which is key to Israel's economic strength and defences against attempts to isolate it internationally, according to critics.