Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the nation on Thursday night discussing the Jewish, democratic state of Israel on the eve of Tisha B’Av. He warned of the threats of a military coup from the refusal to serve, and the potential destruction of Israel’s democracy by those who don’t respect the results of the elections. He discussed the coalition’s efforts to reach a wide consensus on the details of the Judicial Reform, and pointed out how members of the opposition, including Yair Lapid and Gideon Sa’ar, had they themselves supported elements of it in the recent past. Even Aharon Barak said Reasonableness could be cancelled, Netanyahu pointed out. Netanyahu called on all the opposition members should show zero tolerance towards refusal to serve.
Below is an abridged transcript of Netanyahu’s speech:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, this evening (Thursday, 20 July 2023):
“Citizens of Israel, at this time, the shadow of the destruction and exile of the Ninth of Av (https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/tisha-bav-101/) is hanging over us.
We were dispersed in various exiles. We have known suffering and pain. After many generations, we returned to our land to build it together with our state. We have turned Israel into a rising power among the nations. We have built a strong, advanced and prosperous state. We have done this thanks to what we have in common.
We all want a Jewish and democratic state. We all want a strong IDF and we all understand that we only have one state.
However, as in every democratic country, we have disagreements; this is natural. Very many among us believe that the proper balance between the authorities has been disturbed over the past decades; therefore, they believe that this balance must be restored so that the democratic choice of the people may find expression by the government that was elected by the people and which expresses the will of the people. Others are concerned about the implications they attribute to this change and others simply want to topple the government which was elected democratically – without any connection to the reform.
This evening, I would like to calm everyone: In every situation, Israel will continue to be a democratic state. It will continue to be a liberal state. It will not become a state governed by Jewish religious law and it will safeguard everyone’s individual rights. But when I say ‘everyone’, these rights must really be equal for everyone. None are more equal, and none are less equal. Some people cannot be subject to the law while others are above it – and can block roads, set fires, block the railways, block ambulances and put lives at risk.
As the Prime Minister of all Israeli citizens, I aspire to reach broad agreement on the issue of amending the legal system. Therefore, we entered into a continuous dialogue for three months. The coalition made a number of proposals to the opposition, proposal after proposal for three months, continuously. But, to my great sorrow, the hand that was extended to the leaders of the opposition was left in the air. It could be that this occurred due to their concerns regarding extremist elements among the protest movement leadership. They say openly that they do not want any compromise but are striving for only one thing – to sow chaos in the country in order to achieve the toppling of the government, without any connection to the reform.
Nevertheless, even in the absence of a partner, the coalition showed responsibility.
Citizens of Israel, all of the remarks about the destruction of democracy are simply absurd. This is an attempt to mislead you over something that has no basis in reality.
What does endanger democracy, is refusal to serve. Refusal to serve endangers the security of us all, of every citizen of Israel.
In a democracy, the military is subordinate to the government – it does not compel the government.
When elements in the military try – with threats – to dictate policy to the government, this is unacceptable in any democracy, and if they succeed in dictating their threats, this is the end of genuine democracy.
Therefore, a responsible government and a responsible state, cannot tolerate this, and that every responsible citizen must strongly oppose this.
In a proper democracy, the hand that decides is not the one that holds a weapon but that which places a ballot in the ballot box.
Whoever drags the IDF into political arguments, whoever incites to refusal to serve, needs to know that refusal to serve by one side will certainly lead to refusal to serve by the other.
In the past, many citizens of Israel did not agree with everything that previous governments have done: They strongly opposed the Oslo Accords, the uprooting of Gush Katif, the establishment of a government that depended on anti-Zionist elements, a government that was formed in gross violation of explicit promises that were given on the eve of the elections.
Even though they saw these things as endangering the very existence if the state, nobody voiced a sweeping threat of refusal to serve in order to thwart the policy of the elected government.
Unfortunately, those who previously demanded to punish any display of refusal to serve, even the slightest, former chiefs-of-staff and prime ministers among them, are today the leading inciters of a sweeping refusal to serve. They know full well the harsh significance of the threat of refusal to serve as far as our enemies are concerned and despite this they are continuing their irresponsible conduct.
It may be too little too late, but it is good that several leaders of the opposition have recently come out against refusal to serve and I expect that all members of the opposition, without exception, to show zero tolerance toward this dangerous phenomenon.
We cannot accept it – and we will not accept it.
Citizens of Israel, in my 16 years as Prime Minister, I have always seen myself as the Prime Minister of everyone. Not for one minute have I neglected the great challenges and opportunities that face us: In the growth of the economy, we are taking action here, lowering the cost of living, we are taking action here too. In the daily fight against terrorism, in the ongoing fight against the Iranian threat, in expanding the peace agreements – we are working toward these goals all the time.
Even in these moments we are taking action. I would like to tell you efforts are being made to reach agreement on the issue of reasonableness. I very much hope that these efforts will succeed. But if they do not, the door of the coalition will always be open, to you, citizens of Israel, and to the opposition.
Because even in the stormiest times that we can remember, I always remember one thing: We are one people, with one fate. We have no other country. We are brothers.”