General strike in Israel, Netanyahu under pressure to freeze judicial overhaul
Israel’s largest labor union on Monday announced a general strike over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform, as flights were disrupted, universities and shopping malls closed. The move, which affects much of Israel’s economy, comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to announce on Monday afternoon or evening that the legislative process of the controversial plan will be suspended.
Israel’s public broadcaster KAN, Ynet news and other Israeli outlets reported Monday morning that Netanyahu is considering the announcement to freeze the plan, and made that clear during a meeting with his cabinet ministers. The judicial reform plan has drawn Israel into an unprecedented wave of protests since December. The plan would undermine the power of the High Court and give the government the power to appoint judges.
The majority of the public sectors have gone on strike on Monday. Hospitals are operating on an emergency basis, receiving only urgent cases. Most municipal services have been hit, although the municipality of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak said it would operate normally.
The banks are awaiting authorization from the banking authority to join the strike. Israeli missions abroad have also been hit, apart from personal security. Israel’s electricity company has been hit, offering minimal service. Public transport is not included in the union workers’ call to strike, to enable protesters to easily reach all demonstration sites.
Netanyahu may back down
Under pressure, Netanyahu is expected to put the legislative plan on hold. No official announcement has been issued so far, but Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the main sponsor of the judicial reform, has been quoted as saying that he will support any decision made by the prime minister, and that he has no intention of resigning. lest the restoration be postponed. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has said he may resign if the reform is stopped, continuing to support the government from the outside.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog asked the government on Monday morning to stop the legislative process regarding judicial reform.
His call came just hours after Netanyahu rebuked Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his call to halt the legislation, and against a backdrop of unprecedented demonstrations and rallies across the country against judicial reform. . Gallant’s firing clearly sent public outrage to new heights. More demonstrations are planned for Monday evening.
Referring to the massive demonstrations that took place after Netanyahu’s announcement of Gallant, Herzog asked the government to stop the legislation. “The people are very worried. The security, the economy, the society – everything is under threat. The eyes of all the people of Israel are turned to you. For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of Responsibility, I am ask you to stop the legislation immediately. I call on all party leaders of the Knesset, coalition and opposition as one, to put the citizens of the nation above all else and behave responsibly and bravely no more delay,” he said in a statement.
The leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid, asked Netanyahu to walk back Gallant’s firing and stop the judicial overhaul. “Defence Minister Gallant was fired for one reason only — he was telling the truth. he did not threaten, he did not issue an ultimatum; he warned against the collapse of the people’s army in the face of a government that wants to dismiss reality,” said Lapid at the weekly meeting of the Yesh Atid Knesset faction on Monday morning.
Some local council leaders have announced that they will go on hunger strike until the judicial reform is suspended.
Demonstrators began gathering at various key points at 10 pm local time on Sunday, two hours after Netanyahu’s announcement. Thousands of people blocked the Tel Aviv Ayalon highway throughout the night. After five hours of demonstrations the police used water cannons to disperse the protesters. The demonstrators tried to stop the police by burning tires, building barriers and throwing stones. Thousands of people also gathered in front of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence, in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem and many other cities. Protesters want not only to overturn Netanyahu’s legislative amendment, but also to remove Netanyahu from office.
The chairman of Israel’s most powerful labor union Histadrut, Arnon Bar-David, held a press conference on Monday morning, asking all employers and employees to join the protest movement. He called for a general strike to be held throughout the country. Bar-David said he worked hard to find a compromise, but Gallant’s shot crossed all red lines.
Shortly after the Histadrut press conference, the head of the Workers’ Union at Ben Gurion Airport announced that he will stop all events immediately; 30,000 people were expected to fly out of Ben Gurion Airport on Monday.
Members of Netanyahu’s legal team, defending him in his corruption trial, said they will stop representing him if the judicial reform goes ahead.
Netanyahu himself spent the night consulting with his colleagues in the Knesset. With Gallant’s firing and the massive demonstrations that followed, some coalition leaders said they will support Netanyahu if he decides to stop the legislative process. Among them were Economy and Trade Minister Nir Barkat, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, Culture and Sports Minister Mickey Zohar and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Netanyahu may face Israelis in the coming hours.
The heads of Israel’s security agencies expressed their concern about Gallant’s shooting in the middle of the month of Ramadan, which was considered to be a very volatile period in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Channel 12 in a live phone call Sunday night that judicial reform must be put on hold. “Israel is in greater danger than at any time since then  The Yom Kippur War – a security risk, a diplomatic risk, an economic risk, a risk of collapse,” he said.
The White House also expressed concern on Sunday night about developments in Israel. A statement issued by White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said the Biden administration is “strongly urging” compromise. “We continue to strongly urge Israel’s leaders to reach a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that is the best way forward for Israel and all of its citizens,” the statement read.