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Ex-Israeli security chief backs reservists’ protest as Netanyahu allies advance judicial overhaul | AP News

Ex-Israeli security chief backs reservists’ protest as Netanyahu allies advance judicial overhaul | AP News

JERUSALEM (AP) — The former head of Israel’s internal security agency voiced support on Thursday for military reservists refusing to serve in protest of the government’s planned judicial overhaul, drawing fierce criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultranationalist allies days before parliament was set to vote on a key piece of legislation.

A parliamentary committee approved late Wednesday a bill that would curtail the high court’s remit in using the “reasonability standard,” a legal yardstick allowing judges to overturn decisions made by elected officials deemed beyond the pale.

The bill, which will come up for a final vote in parliament next week, is one of several keystone pieces of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan, which seeks to curb what he and his allies consider excessive powers of unelected judges.

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Critics of the plan say the legislation will concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies and undermine the country’s system of checks and balance.

Speaking to Army Radio on Thursday, Nadav Argaman, a former head of the Shin Bet internal security agency, leveled withering criticism at Netanyahu, saying he appears committed to preserving his ruling coalition of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, not the state itself, and said he was “very worried that we’re on the verge of a civil war.”

“We need to stop this legislation by any means,” he said, voicing support for reservists who “are very concerned and fearful for the security of the state of Israel.”

For reservists, he said, “until now defending Israel was done on the battlefield. From their perspective, as of today, defending Israel means preserving Israeli democracy.”

Argaman was appointed head of the Shin Bet by Netanyahu in 2016 and stepped down in 2021.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a key Netanyahu ally and ultranationalist settler, tweeted that Argaman had “given himself over to idiotic brainwashing.”

The judicial overhaul plan, which was announced shortly after Netanyahu took office as prime minister following November’s parliamentary elections — Israel’s fifth in under four years — has divided an already highly polarized country and sparked months of sustained mass protests.

Netanyahu froze the legislation in March following weeks of demonstrations and mounting labor strikes, but rebooted the judicial overhaul in recent weeks after talks seeking compromise with opposition lawmakers failed.

Recent days have seen growing calls by military reservists to refuse to serve if the legislation passes.

Critics say removing the reasonability standard would allow the government to appoint unqualified cronies to important positions without oversight. They also say that it could clear the way for Netanyahu to fire the current attorney general — seen by supporters as a bulwark against the overhaul plan — or appoint legal officials who could ease his way out of the corruption charges he is facing in an ongoing trial.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, now heads the country’s most ultranationalist and religiously conservative government in Israel’s 75-year history.