Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi told the High Court of Justice Thursday he was willing to set aside his busy schedule and appear immediately before the court to defend the position of the Israel Defense Forces. On what issue: Iran? Hamas? Other security threats? Not at all. The High Court is hearing arguments on the Chief of Staff’s Increase, an addition of about 10% to the pension of career officers given at retirement that the Justice Ministry believes is illegal.
The Financial Justice nonprofit organization petitioned the High Court, demanding that it end these illegal payments, which cost the state 1.1 billion shekels ($340 million) a year. Despite a 2015 state comptroller’s report and the Justice Ministry brief, both of which state the arrangement is illegal, the government is dragging its feet and refuses to regularize the arrangement, which is very expensive and also demonstrates the government’s impotence vis-a-vis the defense establishment, which treats the state budget as its own. Governability? Look for it elsewhere.
In this shady deal, which would impress even the most expert tax evaders, the Defense Ministry turned a legal clause from the 1960s that enabled the chief of staff to increase the pensions of career officers in certain exceptional situations into a standard that is applied to 98% of the members of the career army. In practice, the IDF’s Personnel Directorate sets the pensions for military retirees when it gives them a supplement of up to 19% (10% on average) before they retire.
This is a checkbook filled with blank checks that has cost the country tens of billions of shekels over the years, and will cost many billions more if it is not stopped. This includes pensions for the three years of compulsory service that career officers also receive – based on their most recent, highest salaries, and not according to their low salaries as conscripts – which creates severe discrimination between those who went on to serve in the career army and those who did not.
The Supreme Court justices understand quite well the distorted and expensive standard that must now face a legal reckoning, and as a result have ordered the government to respond – by August 2021 – and explain why the Chief of Staff’s Increase should not be stopped, and why the government should not take steps to recover the excess payments made over the seven years preceding the petition.
In response, the state ordered the IDF to inform active and retired members of the career army of a “legal difficulty” regarding the continued payment of the supplement. The final word has not yet been heard, and Kochavi’s announcement that he planned to appear before the High Court reflects the IDF’s intention of fighting to perpetuate this shady deal.
The proper solution would be to prevent the employees of the Personnel Directorate from setting the pensions of their fellow service members and to stop paying the supplement immediately. There is no reason to give the IDF an expensive privilege that no other government body receives.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.