Top labor union holds 5-hour emergency meeting on overhaul, sets compromise deadline

Pressured by opponents of the shakeup to launch general strike, Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David says ‘further steps’ may be announced at 4 p.m. if no deal reached on coalition bill

File: Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David declares a general strike in protest of the judicial overhaul, at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David declares a general strike in protest of the judicial overhaul, at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Histadrut, Israel’s largest labor union, held a five-hour “emergency meeting” Saturday night and early Sunday morning to discuss courses of action as the coalition moves to pass its first major judicial overhaul bill in the face of mass public opposition, saying afterward that if no solution for a compromise is reached by 4 p.m. on Sunday, it will reconvene to possibly declare a nationwide workers’ strike.

Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David is facing intense pressure from opponents of the judicial shakeup to declare a general strike to stop the bill to limit court oversight of government decisions.

The meeting included other senior Histadrut officials and Dov Amitai, head of the Israeli Presidency of Business Organizations. According to reports Friday, Bar-David and Amitai met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently to try to find a compromise deal.

In a statement issued after 2 a.m., Bar-David and Amitai issued a joint statement cited by Hebrew media, saying that they have made a proposal to Netanyahu — also familiar to the opposition leaders — for an agreed compromise outline regarding the reasonableness bill, and were engaged in ongoing talks with both sides.

“If the sides don’t reach an agreed solution in accordance with our proposal, we will convene [Sunday] at 4 p.m. to make decisions regarding further steps,” they said.

Dozens of top industry leaders have called on Netanyahu’s government to halt its latest legislative efforts to limit the judiciary.

The so-called Business Forum held a meeting in Tel Aviv Sunday night to discuss its strategy for backing the movement against the overhaul plan.

A key part of the discussion among the 70 gathered business figures — including owners of banks, shopping malls and fashion retail chains — was what level of support they are prepared to give to anti-overhaul protesters who have organized mass demonstrations against the government since January.

In a statement, the business group urged the government “to stop the unilateral legislation and prevent the irreversible damage caused to the Israeli economy, due to the rift that has opened up in the nation and due to the loss of confidence of investors in the Israeli economy.”

It also said that “after the stoppage of the legislation, we call on the coalition and the opposition to return immediately to negotiations that will yield agreements.”

National Unity MK Benny Gantz arrives for a meeting with owners of the largest Israeli companies regarding the government’s judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on July 16, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In late March, the Histadrut announced a general strike as the coalition attempted to push multiple overhaul balls through parliament. That strike lasted a single day as Netanyahu quickly halted the legislation to allow for talks with opposition party representatives hosted by President Isaac Herzog.

But months of negotiations failed to bring an agreement and Netanyahu’s coalition of right, far-right and religious parties has recently forged ahead unilaterally with remaking the justice system.

It is currently advancing legislation to prevent courts from using the test of “reasonableness” in evaluating decisions made by the cabinet and ministers.

Bar-David has in recent weeks resisted calls to threaten another strike, saying such tools should not be used lightly.

Kan news reported days ago that Bar-David had told a meeting of Histadrut leaders that he would not call a strike in protest of the reasonableness clause.

He has, however, urged Netanyahu to “stop the chaos” and threatened that the Histadrut could take action if things escalate.

At a conference in Tel Aviv earlier this month, Bar-David appealed directly to Netanyahu in a public speech: “Stop the crazy chaos in Israeli society as soon as possible. When the situation reaches an extreme and all other paths have been taken, we will intervene and use our power.”

Histadrut spokesperson Peter Lerner told The New York Times that “the option of a general strike is on the table.”

“Our responsibility is to workers’ rights,” Lerner said. “Our responsibility is to Israeli society. We called on Prime Minister Netanyahu to stop the chaos and negotiate with the players, and that’s what we expect. If not, we have the power of the strike.”

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