Netanyahu slams reservists protesting judicial reforms

STORY: As tensions mount within Israel over the future of the government and the judiciary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday criticized a group of army reservists who said they would not attend a training day in protest of the government's planned judicial overhaul.

In a letter, some 37 pilots and navigators with an Air Force F-15 squadron said they would skip drills set for this week and instead "devote our time to dialogue and reflection for the sake of democracy and national unity."

Netanyahu said such refusal endangered Israel's existence, and said that Israelis needed to fight side by side whatever their political differences, adding, "This was the case throughout all of Israel's wars, regardless of the struggles and disagreements among us. Refusal threatens this existential foundation."

The air force reservists' refusal is the latest to emerge from the country's armed forces over the planned judicial reforms.

Netanyahu's religious-nationalist government seeks changes that include curbs on the Supreme Court, which it accuses of over-reach. Critics worry that Netanyahu - who is on trial on graft charges he denies - wants excessive power over the judiciary.

Last weekend demonstrators chanting "democracy" blocked a highway in Tel Aviv. Another crowd protested in Jerusalem. Among them was Natasha Dudinsky.

"I wish we had another kind of government, I am not happy with this government, but, even if it stays, I do not think they should change the regime, and basic democratic laws and the separation of powers is very important, and they want to cut the judicial independence and I think it is very dangerous."

Weekly and increasingly raucous demonstrations have swept the country, with some protest leaders - among them former military chiefs - saying that a non-democratic turn in government would warrant mass-disobedience within the ranks.

Last month a group of Israeli army veterans who served in the 1973 Yom Kippur War dragged an old tank to a protest against the proposed judicial changes.

Isaac Herzog, the country's president, who has a largely ceremonial role, has emerged as a potential dealmaker between the government and the opposition.

Herzog on Monday said a compromise in the government's judicial overhaul plan could be imminent.

In a statement, Herzog said "We are closer than ever to the possibility of an agreed outline. There are agreements behind the scenes on most things."