Israeli military veterans, the backbone of the protest movement, vow to continue demonstrations

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Tel Aviv

In a sea of ​​Israeli flags, Yiftach Golov is holding a flag that looks a little different.

Among thousands of protesters who took to the streets for the 13th consecutive week on Saturday, Golov waved a brown flag representing a group called “Brothers and Sisters in Arms.”

They are veterans – many like Golov, from elite forces – who now feel they are fighting on a new battlefield: to save Israeli democracy.

“We believe it is our responsibility to once again stand before the nation’s flag and defend Israel,” Golov said as he made his way through protesters between high-rise buildings on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street. Stop this madness.” Many of Israel’s high-tech companies are located here.

During the Second Intifada, in the early 2000s, Golov served in a Special Forces reconnaissance unit. He was never particularly political at first, focusing more on obtaining a PhD in biophysics from Tel Aviv University.

But when a protest movement against the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul plan began in January, Golov participated in a demonstration and soon became one of thousands of veterans and now military reservists who took up the issue as their new mission. have taken.

Some, including the elite Air Force Reserve, have taken this a step further, and threatened to ignore calls to train or even serve in protest over the government’s planned judicial changes, Which will give the ruling parties more control over Israel’s judiciary.

Others have become some of the most active organizers and protesters. Last week, a group of Brothers and Sisters in Arms protested by carrying a figure wrapped in an Israeli flag on a stretcher, just as they would carry an injured comrade off the field.

While Golov says he has not taken the drastic step of refusing to serve, he understands the motivation.

“We are fighting for justice and freedom like the American story, these are the values ​​that are represented when we look at our flag, it is something that has been lacking for the last few decades. So basically, we reclaim the flag,” he said.

Fellow group members, all wearing brown shirts with the organization’s logo, come over and say hello. They were sprayed throughout the protest. One of them is leading the “Pink Front”, a group of coordinated drummers who look like they’ve dressed up for a celebration, and often lead chants at protests.

They are using the skills they learned in the army – how to organize, how to mobilize – now to protest. But more importantly, they say they have the same type of motivation.

“It’s a very deep feeling that you’re part of something bigger than yourself, that (you’re) allowed to sacrifice anything that’s important, whether it’s your career, health, seriously mental illness,” Golov said. May you be healthy.” “We all have a mission, you are willing to do it at any cost. You are very determined, you know you are on the right side, you carry the torch of light. “It keeps us extremely motivated, despite the fact that we have not been sleeping for days.”

Israel’s protest movement is made up of many different groups, but pressure from Israel’s most respected veterans has been seen as the key to moving the needle.

Last Monday, after weeks of sustained protests and the largest general strike in Israeli history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a pause on the legislation to allow time for negotiations with the opposition.

But despite the announcements, protesters are still on the streets in large numbers. CNN affiliate Channel 12 in Israel estimated the size of Saturday’s demonstration in Tel Aviv at about 150,000 people. Organizers claimed it was 230,000.

Israelis protest during a demonstration after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Galant in Jerusalem on March 27, 2023.

Mass protests and widespread strike action last week came after Netanyahu said he had decided to fire Defense Minister Yoav Galant for advocating a delay in passing the law — sources told CNN, “current Netanyahu has delayed the move due to the “security situation”. ,

In a televised speech demanding a delay, Gallant said the pause in legislation was needed “for the safety of Israel”, citing the refusal of some Israel Defense Forces reservists to train in protest of government plans. He said that moving forward on the proposals could threaten Israel’s security.

Under pressure domestically and from allies abroad, Netanyahu said he would delay voting on the remaining legislation until after the Knesset’s Passover recess in April “to give a real opportunity for real debate.”

“As a matter of responsibility to the country, I decided to delay the vote…to allow time for discussion,” he said.

But Netanyahu indicated the delay was only temporary. He insisted that the overhaul was necessary, and repeated criticism of those refusing to train or serve in the military in protest of the planned changes. “Denial is the end of our country,” he said.

Many protesters do not believe the pause is genuine, or say it is merely a tactic to give Netanyahu some breathing room and to get protesters to go home before moving forward with reforms.

“We will begin inaction only when we know 100% that the State of Israel will remain a functional democratic state. Whatever needs to be done about it, Golov said.

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