In a sea of Israeli flags, Yiftach Golov holds one that looks a little different.
Among the hundreds of thousands of protesters who took to the streets Saturday for the 13th consecutive week, Golov raised a maroon flag representing a group called “Brothers and Sisters in Arms.”
These are veterans – many of whom, like Golov, belong to the elite forces – who now feel they are fighting on a new battlefield: saving Israeli democracy.
“We believe it is our responsibility to once again go and raise the flag of the nation to end this madness of defending Israel,” Golov said, as he pushed his way through protesters on Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street, between the skyscrapers that house many Israeli high-tech companies.
During the Second Intifada in the early 2000s, Golov served in a special forces reconnaissance unit. He has never been particularly political before, focusing more on earning his doctorate in biophysics at Tel Aviv University.
But when the protest movement against the Israeli government’s judicial reform plan began in January, Golov participated in a demonstration and quickly became one of thousands of veterans, and now military reservists, who served this causes their new mission.
Some, including elite air force reservists, have gone further, threatening not to answer the call to train or even serve in protest against the government’s plans for judicial changes , which would give ruling parties more control over Israel’s justice system.
Others became among the most active organizers and protesters. Last week, a group of Brothers and Sisters in Arms protested by carrying a figure wrapped in the Israeli flag on a stretcher, the same way they would carry an injured comrade off the field.
Although Golov says he didn’t take the drastic step of refusing service, he understands the motivation.
“We fight for justice and freedom, just like American history, these are the values that are symbolized when we look at our flag, this is something that has been missing in recent decades. So basically we get the flag back,” he said.
The other members of the group, all dressed in brown shirts with the organization’s logo, come to say hello. They are scattered throughout the demonstrations. One even leads the “Rose Front,” a group of coordinated drummers who appear dressed for a rave and who often lead the chants at protests.
They are now using the skills they learned in the military – how to organize, how to mobilize – for protests. But more importantly, they claim to have the same type of motivation.
“The very deep feeling that you are part of something bigger than yourself, that (you are) allowed to sacrifice whatever is necessary, whether it’s your career, your health, seriously your mental health,” a Golov said. “We all have a mission, you are ready to do it at all costs. You are very determined, you know you are on the right side, you carry the torch of light. This allows us to be very motivated even if we haven’t slept for days.
The Israeli protest movement is made up of many disparate groups, but pressure from Israel’s vaunted veterans has been seen as the key to getting things moving.
Last Monday, after weeks of sustained protests and the largest general strike in Israeli history, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced a pause on the bill to allow time for negotiations with the opposition.
But despite the announcements, there are still many demonstrators in the streets. Israel’s CNN affiliate Channel 12 estimated the size of Saturday’s protest in Tel Aviv at around 150,000 people. Organizers said there were 230,000.
Last week’s mass protests and widespread strikes came after Netanyahu said he had decided to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for advocating a delay in passing the legislation – a move that Netanyahu has since delayed, sources told CNN, due to “the current security situation.” »
In his televised speech calling for a delay, Gallant said the pause in legislation was necessary “for the security of Israel,” citing the refusal of some Israel Defense Force reservists to train to protest the plans. government. He said implementing these proposals could threaten Israel’s security.
Under pressure from domestic and foreign allies, Netanyahu said he would delay voting on the rest of the legislation until after the Knesset’s Passover recess in April “to allow time to have a real chance to have a real debate.”
“Out of responsibility towards the nation, I decided to delay (…) the vote, in order to allow time for discussion,” he added.
But Netanyahu said the delay was only temporary. He insisted on the need for an overhaul and reiterated his criticism of refusing to train or serve in the military in protest against the planned changes. “To refuse is the end of our country,” he said.
Many protesters don’t believe the pause is real, or say it’s simply a delaying tactic aimed at giving Netanyahu some breathing room and enticing protesters to return home before he ends. launches into reforms.
“We will only begin deactivation when we know 100% that the State of Israel will remain a functioning democratic country. Whatever needs to be done for this,” Golov said.