Business forum front-page ads counter attacks on IDF chief

Labor federation chief said to vow action if government defies High Court

Meeting with business leaders over possible constitutional crisis if court strikes down a Basic Law amendment, Arnon Bar-David reportedly doesn’t commit to calling general strike

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)

Histadrut Labor Federation chairman Arnon Bar-David said on Wednesday that the country’s largest union will step in to prevent a constitutional crisis if the government refuses to abide by a potential High Court of Justice decision to strike down legislation.

Bar-David met with a forum of business leaders to discuss the possibility, against the backdrop of upcoming High Court hearings on petitions against recently passed laws that involve amendments to Basic Laws.

Nullifying a quasi-constitutional Basic Law would be an unprecedented exercise of judicial review over the Knesset’s constituent authority. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has refused to say whether his government would abide by such a ruling, while his coalition has said the High Court has no right to intervene on Basic Law amendments.

The High Court reviews come as the government pushes ahead with its planned drastic overhaul of the judiciary, which has been met with months of mass protests.

Bar-David told the business leaders that ignoring the High Court would “cross all lines” and spell total chaos, Hebrew media reported.

“We will not allow such a constitutional crisis to occur, and we will not sit on the sidelines,” Bar-David vowed.

However, he did not give a clear commitment that the Histadrut would call a strike, and the business leaders and the labor union agreed to continue talks in the coming weeks.

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut and Supreme Court justices at the High Court in Jerusalem, on July 30, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Also Thursday, the business forum, which represents some 150 leading companies, warned of action if attacks by coalition leaders on the IDF brass continue.

The forum took out full front page ads in all of Israel’s major papers with a picture of IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and a quote from Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion: “Every Israeli mother will know that she’s entrusted the fate of her children into the hands of commanders who are worthy of it.”

“Any denigration of Chief of Staff Halevi — who has worked day and night for years to safeguard the security of Israel and create an effective deterrence for those who would destroy us — constitutes serious harm to the security of the State of Israel and the entire public,” the forum said in a statement. “We the members of the business forum will not allow this.”

The ad comes after days of attacks by members of the coalition on Halevi and other top IDF brass who have warned that the refusal by reservists to show up for volunteer duty amid the judicial overhaul is harming IDF readiness

The Ynet news site reported that there is drive by various entities to form a broad coalition in the business sector and universities that will declare an open-ended general strike if the government doesn’t heed a potential High Court decision striking down its legislation.

Business figures at the meeting, held at the office of Dov Amitai, head of the Israeli Presidency of Business Organizations, were seeking a commitment from Bar-David that he would bring the Histadrut into the strike, the report said.

Leaders of the protest movement against the judicial overhaul responded in a statement: “We are in gloomy times when the heads of the security establishment, senior figures in the economy and the chairman of the Histadrut are required to clarify what is obvious in any well-run country — the government, every government, is obliged to act in accordance with the law and court decisions.”

Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice issued an interim injunction demanding that the government explain why the recusal law shouldn’t take effect only after the next elections, and expanded the panel hearing petitions against the legislation to 11 justices, indicating that it is formally considering intervention against the law.

The law, an amendment to Basic Law: The Government, eliminates the ability of the court or the attorney general to order a prime minister to recuse themselves from office. It was passed by the coalition in March, apparently to ensure that Netanyahu, who is on trial on multiple counts of alleged corruption, cannot be ordered to recuse himself due to any alleged violation of a conflict of interest agreement he signed in 2020.

Coalition party heads denounced the High Court’s injunction, claiming that it has no authority to either strike down a Basic Law or to postpone its implementation, saying that such a decision would ruin the balance between Israel’s branches of government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Justice Minister Yariv Levin (R) at the Knesset on June 7, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

On Wednesday, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara told Justice Minister Yariv Levin that she will not defend another recent piece of legislation in court and authorized him to enlist outside counsel.

That legislation, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary, prohibits all courts, including the Supreme Court, from using the judicial yardstick of “reasonableness” to review and potentially reverse government and ministerial decisions. It was the first major law passed under the government’s far-reaching judicial overhaul plan.

Bar-David is facing intense pressure from opponents of the judicial shakeup to declare a general strike.

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 its plan to remake the justice system.

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

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

The government says the judicial overhaul is needed to rein in what it sees as an overreaching court system. Opponents say it will sap the court of its power to act as a check and balance against parliament, dangerously eroding Israel’s democratic character.

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