Business forum, tech companies to strike ahead of final votes on reasonableness law

Organization representing 150 leading companies, tech sector workers, lawyers to rally Monday as coalition readies to enact key bill that will limit judicial review

Doctors arrive at Jerusalem's International Convention Center for a rally protesting the government's judicial overhaul legislation. July 23, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)
Doctors arrive at Jerusalem's International Convention Center for a rally protesting the government's judicial overhaul legislation. July 23, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)

A leading business forum representing 150 of Israel’s largest companies announced a strike for Monday, which would see some banks, shopping centers and gas stations closed, and some businesses working in a reduced framework, amid a bitter, divisive national standoff over the Netanyahu government’s planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary.

The coalition is gearing up for an upcoming final Knesset vote on the “reasonableness” bill, which — if passed as is on Monday or Tuesday — would remove courts’ ability to use the doctrine to review politicians’ decisions.

The forum, which includes mall chain Big Shopping Centers, Azrieli Group companies and banking institutions, called on other companies and organizations to “join the emergency step that we were compelled to take, to bring the unilateral legislation to a halt, and enter into talks [on a compromise],” according to a statement cited by Hebrew-language media on Sunday night.

“We must reach agreements that will prevent dramatic damage to the economy and the rift that is tearing apart society, disbanding the people’s army and endangering the security and future of us all. The forum calls on the prime minister to fulfill his duty, understand the scale of the disaster that may occur, and immediately stop the legislation and enter into negotiation,” the forum said.

Some 200 businesses in the high-tech sector, which has been at the forefront of anti-overhaul protests, and large legal organizations also announced they would allow workers to strike on Monday, in a bid to pressure the government to halt the legislative push, which has prompted hundreds of thousands to protest for several days and left more than 10,000 military reservists prepared to halt their volunteer duty.

Among the tech companies participating were Wix, Wiz, Papaya Global, and Lemonade, according to Hebrew media. The midnight announcements came hours after a compromise proposal by the Histadrut, Israel’s largest labor federation, on the “reasonableness” bill was quickly rejected by the ruling Likud party, anti-government protesters and parts of the opposition.

The Big shopping center in Yehud on May 4, 2021 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The dismissal increased speculation that the powerful labor union may call a general strike, as it did in late March when the hardline coalition attempted to push multiple overhaul bills through the Knesset. That strike lasted a single day as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly halted the legislation to allow for talks with opposition party representatives hosted by President Isaac Herzog.

Those talks fell through, but Herzog on Sunday launched a last-ditch effort to reach a compromise with the aim of forging a consensus judicial reform package.

Freshly returned from his US visit, Herzog rushed to meet separately with Netanyahu — who was still hospitalized following the insertion of a pacemaker — and opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, with optimism growing that a breakthrough may be in the offing.

Lapid appeared to throw his support behind the president’s proposal — which reportedly involves a softening of the provisions of the “reasonableness” bill, and a freeze on subsequent overhaul legislation to enable substantive negotiations — but Gantz was reported to be opposed. Protest organizers are vehemently against reaching a compromise with the government.

There was no official word on the proposals discussed at the meetings. Channel 12 news reported on Sunday evening that the gaps between the sides on a potential softening of the “reasonableness” bill were not insurmountable, and that the main sticking point was the opposition’s demand for an 18-month freeze on any further legislation, as the sides try to find consensus — a period the coalition views as too long.

Histadrut leader Arnon Bar-David has been facing intense pressure from opponents of the judicial shakeup to declare a general strike in an attempt to stop the coalition’s bill to limit court oversight of government decisions. He had previously promised to convene and discuss “further steps” if no agreement were reached by 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

As of midnight on Sunday, the Histadrut had not made a decision on its next steps. Monday’s planned strike by leading businesses was not coordinated with the Histadrut.

The coalition is expected to push through legislation on Monday or Tuesday to cancel the judicial yardstick of “reasonableness” for government and ministerial decisions, enacting the law over strong political and societal objections, and despite growing announcements by army reservists that they will stop showing up for duty, as well as diplomatic, professional, social, economic, and security concerns raised by key Israeli officials and international allies.

According to the Histadrut draft proposal, courts would not be able to strike down government decisions on grounds of “reasonableness” if they relate to “matters of policy” and were approved by the entire cabinet. It was not clear whether a majority of ministers would be sufficient under the proposal to shield a decision from the reasonableness test, or if a unanimous decision by all cabinet members would be required.

Judges would also be barred from exercising the judicial standard to review the appointments of ministers and deputy ministers.

Anti-overhaul activists seen near the Knesset in Jerusalem during a protest against the government’s legislative package, July 23, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

“All other decisions by ministers… will continue to be subject to judicial review, including per the reasonableness standard,” the Histadrut statement said, while adding the changes wouldn’t take effect until a government is formed after the next elections.

The proposal also called for resuming talks between coalition and opposition representatives to reach an agreement “on the rest of the issues,” with the government agreeing not to move forward with any further overhaul legislation in the next 18 months unless backed by at least 75 Knesset members. Netanyahu’s government holds 64 seats in the 120-seat parliament.

Also on Sunday, thousands of Israeli doctors arrived in Jerusalem from all over the country to protest the government’s legislative push.

Sunday’s march and rally followed a two-hour “warning strike” in the healthcare system on July 19 called by the Israel Medical Association. Amid vocal calls by many for a wider strike, IMA chair Prof. Zion Hagay announced that the IMA secretariat will begin deliberations as soon as Sunday evening on whether to take such action.

Several thousand doctors pack into Jerusalem’s International Convention Center for an Israel Medical Association-organized rally protesting the government’s judicial overhaul plans. July 23, 2023. (Renee Ghert-Zand/Times of Israel)

Hagay said that in the meantime, the IMA has declared a labor dispute that will position it to strike should it decide to do so. He also declared that should the “reasonableness” bill pass, the IMA would appeal immediately to the Supreme Court.

Earlier Sunday, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi warned that the unity of the military was being “dangerously” harmed, as thousands of reservists vowed to end their volunteer duty in protest of the government’s moves.

Halevi also held a rare meeting — with Netanyahu’s approval — with Gantz as Lapid sat down with Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar to discuss the security situation and the heightened tensions in the military.

“The security situation is very worrying and necessitates attention and strategic decisions on various fronts,” Gantz said after the meeting. He promised that even if the reasonableness bill ends up passing, “we will cancel it, sooner or later.”

After Lapid’s meeting with Bar, the Yesh Atid party leader said he received a security overview about the threats “from within and from outside,” and stressed his concern about national cohesion.

“We have joint responsibility to safeguard national security and national unity,” he said.

Renee Ghert-Zand contributed to this report.

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