Israeli reserve pilots ditch drill in protest at judicial overhaul
Dozens of Israeli air force reservists said on Sunday they would not turn up for a training day in protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's judicial reforms.
In a letter circulated in local media, 37 pilots and navigators from an F-15 squadron said they would skip drills scheduled for Wednesday and instead "devote our time to dialogue and reflection for the sake of democracy and national unity".
The Israeli air force relies heavily on reservists during wartime and keeps retired crew members in training to maintain staffing levels.
Israel's extreme-right government seeks changes that include curbs on the Supreme Court, which it accuses of over-reach. Critics believe that Netanyahu - who is on trial on graft charges he denies - wants excessive power over the judiciary to stop legal proceedings against him in their tracks.
Weekly and increasingly raucous demonstrations have swept Israel, with some protest leaders - among them former military chiefs - saying that a non-democratic turn in government would warrant mass-disobedience within the ranks.
The 37 air force reservists said they would suspend their one-day protest if required to carry out actual operations.
Israel does not publish military personnel figures, making it hard to judge to impact of the air force reservists' protest, or of similar pledges by some reservists from other branches.
"These irresponsible Israeli media are playing up any reservist who makes some kind of statement," Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich told Channel 12 TV.
"There are tens and hundreds of thousands who will continue to enlist for the military and serve in the reserves and understand that we are brothers and bear responsibility for the great miracle that is the Zionist enterprise."
Netanyahu, a former officer in Israel's most prestigious commando unit, tweeted a photograph of himself at conscription age with the caption: "When called up for reserve duty, we always turn up. We are one nation."
Meanwhile, Israel's N12 News reported that El Al Israel Airlines was having trouble finding a crew to fly Netanyahu on a state visit to Italy this week, because of a boycott by pilots over the judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu's office did not respond to a request for comment.
El Al said it would not support boycotts "particularly against the prime minister of Israel", and that the flight had been staffed and would depart as planned.
Reporting by Reuters