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Israeli workers are striking amid growing anger over planned judicial reforms

Israel’s largest trade union group began strikes across a wide range of sectors on Monday, joining a growing protest movement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu plans to overhaul the country’s judiciary – a plan that has met with unprecedented opposition. The strike by the Histadrut umbrella group, which represents more than 700,000 workers in many other sectors including health, transit and banking, could cripple large parts of Israel’s economy, which is already on shaky ground, increasing pressure on Netanyahu to suspend. Overhaul

Despite mounting pressure from activists and weeks of escalating street protests, Netanyahu’s far-right-religious-nationalist coalition government survived a no-confidence motion filed by the country’s political opposition on Monday. The motion — which called for judicial reform — failed by a 59-53 vote, according to the speaker of Israel’s legislature, the Knesset.

There were reports in Israeli media that Netanyahu was ready to announce a moratorium on his government’s push for judicial reform, as the prime minister was due to comment on Monday, but there was no official confirmation of any change in plans.

What is behind the violence and protests in Israel?


Earlier on Monday, Histadrut Chairman Arnon Bar-David announced the strike in a televised address.

“From the moment this press conference ends, the state of Israel ceases,” he declared. “We have a mission to stop this legislative process and we will,” he said, vowing to “keep fighting.”

According to the French news agency AFP, the Israel Medical Association quickly announced a “complete strike in the health system” that appears to affect all public hospitals. Israel’s airport authority said flights departing from the country’s main international airport, Ben Gurion Airport, were grounded due to the strike. Hundreds of thousands are expected to be affected by flight changes. But planes will still be able to land at airports outside Tel Aviv.

Thousands of Israelis protest Netanyahu's firing of defense minister

Aerial footage shows thousands of Israelis blocking Tel Aviv’s Ayalon highway in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s surprise firing of his defense minister, Yoav Galant, on March 27, 2023.

Harel Ben Noon/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Growing resistance to the plan came hours later Thousands of people took to the streets Ministerial overhauls across the country called for a pause in a spontaneous show of anger over Netanyahu’s decision to fire the defense minister. Chanting “the country is on fire,” they set fire to Tel Aviv’s main road, closing it and many others across the country for hours as police clashed with protesters gathered outside Netanyahu’s private home in Jerusalem.

Overhaul, driven by Netanyahu, who iThe trial on corruption charges is going onand his associates Israel’s most right-wing government ever plunging Israel into its worst internal crisis. This has given rise to a sustained and intense protest movement that has spread to almost all sectors of society, including its military, where conservatives have increasingly made it clear that they will not serve a country that is leaning towards dictatorship.

The crisis has further divided Israel, exacerbating long-standing and complex differences over the country’s character that have fueled it since its founding. Protesters say they are fighting for the nation’s soul, seeing the rebuild as a direct challenge to Israel’s democratic ideals. The government labeled them as anarchists to overthrow the democratically elected leadership.

Massive protests in Israel over the government’s judicial reforms


The crisis has also cast a spotlight on Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, and the lengths he may be willing to go to maintain his grip on power while battling corruption allegations. His sacking of the defense minister appeared to many to be the last straw at a time of heightened security threats in the West Bank and elsewhere, sparking a new wave of opposition.

“Where are we taking our beloved Israel? To the abyss,” Arnon Bar-David, head of the Union Group, said in a rousing speech to applause. “Today we are stopping everyone’s descent to the Abyss.” The group sat out months of protests but the sacking of the defense minister provided the impetus for tougher action.

Israelis continue to protest against the government's judicial reform plan

Israelis carrying Israeli flags and anti-government placards gather outside the Knesset in Jerusalem to protest government plans to introduce judicial changes, seen by the opposition as an attempt to reduce the power of the country’s judiciary, March 27, 2023.

Fayez Abu Rameleh/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

On Monday, as embers from highway bonfires were being cleared, Israel’s official president, Isaac Herzog, called on Netanyahu to immediately halt the overhaul, urging the government to put aside political considerations in the interest of the nation.

“The whole nation is reeling in deep anxiety. Our security, our economy, our society – everything is under threat,” he said. “Wake up now!”

Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, a former ally turned rival to Netanyahu, said Monday that Israel is “in the midst of a landslide of losing control.”

“We have not been in such a dangerous situation in 50 years,” he told Israeli Army Radio.

Universities across the country said they were closing their doors “until further notice”. Israeli media reported that a lawyer representing Netanyahu in his corruption trial threatened to resign if the overhaul was not stopped.

The developments are being watched in Washington, which is closely allied with Israel yet uneasy with Netanyahu and far-right elements of his government. National Security Council spokesman Adrienne Watson said the United States was “deeply concerned” by Israel’s development, “which further underscores the urgent need for reconciliation.”

Israelis continue to protest against the government's judicial reform plan

Israelis carrying Israeli flags and anti-government placards gather outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 27, 2023 to protest government plans to introduce judicial changes seen by the opposition as an attempt to reduce the powers of the judiciary.

Fayez Abu Rameleh/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“Democratic values ​​have always been and will remain a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship,” Watson said in a statement.

Some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party said they would support the prime minister if he heeded calls to stop the overhaul, but its architect, Justice Minister Yariv Lavin, a populist party member, said he would resign.

Netanyahu’s staunch allies pressured him to continue.

“We must not stop reforming our justice system and we must not give in to anarchy,” Israel’s Controversial National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gavir said

Israeli politics

Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform plan outside parliament on March 27, 2023 in Jerusalem.

Ariel Shalit/AP

Netanyahu’s sacking of Defense Minister Yoav Galant signals that the prime minister and his aides will move ahead with overhaul plans this week. The committee to move the legislation forward as planned met on Monday.

Gallant was the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against it, saying deep divisions threatened to weaken the military.

Netanyahu’s government has vowed this week to press ahead with a parliamentary vote on the centerpiece of an overhaul — legislation that would give the ruling coalition final say on all judicial appointments. It also wants to pass legislation that would give Parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions and limit judicial review of laws.

A separate overhaul of legislation that would block a Supreme Court ruling to allow a key coalition ally to serve as a minister is being delayed following a request by the party’s leader.

Netanyahu and his allies say the plan would restore balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an intrusive court with liberal sympathies.

But critics say the laws would remove Israel’s system of checks and balances and centralize power in the hands of the ruling coalition. They also say Netanyahu has a conflict of interest because of his corruption trial.

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