'All in all, I fulfilled the orders of Netanyahu'

In deposition, airport workers union head says strike was coordinated with Netanyahu

Pinchas Idan defends himself before Likud tribunal, saying Histadrut labor federation head Arnon Bar-David told him work stoppage was implemented ‘in coordination’ with the premier

Passengers look at a monitor displaying delayed flights at Ben Gurion airport, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)
Passengers look at a monitor displaying delayed flights at Ben Gurion airport, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Oren Ziv)

Airport Workers Union chief Pinchas Idan said in a deposition that to his knowledge, last month’s strike, a major catalyst in pressuring the government to pause its judicial overhaul legislation, was implemented in coordination with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Hebrew-language media reported Sunday.

Idan, a member of the Likud party’s powerful Central Committee, was responding to a petition signed by more than 2,000 party members calling for his ouster for delaying flight departures as part of a general strike against the government’s judicial overhaul.

In a statement to the Likud party tribunal, Idan said he had acted “in accordance with the instructions of the chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, who said that the strike would be short, focused and was done in coordination with [Likud] party chair” Netanyahu, the Kan public broadcaster reported, publishing a copy of the statement.

“All in all, I fulfilled the orders of Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu. I ask the tribunal to throw out the petition,” Idan wrote.

After Netanyahu announced that he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (who was later reinstated) who had warned that the overhaul was causing damage to the country’s security, the influential Histadrut union declared the strike on March 27, in an unprecedented move coordinated with top business leaders.

Idan then announced an immediate halt to flights out of Ben Gurion Airport, leading to mass delays.

Airport union chief and Likud party member Pinchas Idan arrives at the Elections Committee at the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 5, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The strike was called off later that day when Netanyahu announced a pause to the judicial legislation, saying that it would allow for talks aimed at reaching a consensus for any changes.

Idan, in his response to the Likud petition, insisted that if the party were to expel him for aiding in forcing a stop to the legislative process, it would also need to boot Gallant, who publicly called on the prime minister to pause the overhaul process.

The Likud party responded in a statement, claiming that Idan’s statement was incorrect.

“In contradiction to Pinchas Idan’s words,” the party said in a statement, “we acted strongly against the strike and demanded the Histadrut chair stop the strike immediately. Anything claiming otherwise is incorrect.”

Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut, speaks at a press conference attended by leaders from the Israeli commerce sector at the Histadrut Union in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Media reports over the past weeks have claimed Netanyahu arranged the strike in order to create pressure on his own government and give him a pretext to halt the legislation against the wishes of many of his coalition allies.

After those reports, both the Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David and the prime minister denied the claims.

Yonatan Urich, an adviser to Netanyahu, reportedly coordinated with Histadrut officials throughout the day of the strike regarding the timing and content of press conferences held by Netanyahu and the labor union’s Bar-David.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the nation, March 27, 2023. (GPO Screenshot)

It also said the premier’s wife Sara spoke with officials close to Bar-David, telling them to pressure the government to work toward broad agreements on judicial reform.

In an interview after the strike, Idan implied that the events of the day had been “arranged with the people it needed to be arranged with,” but did not mention Netanyahu or Likud explicitly.

He also said he believed the grounding of outbound flights from the airport was likely illegal.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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