Likud members call to oust airport union chief from party after labor strike

2,000 sign petition against Pinchas Idan over his decision to freeze outgoing flights; doctors’ union urges PM to condemn minister who said protesting medics should be disbarred

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

About 2,000 Likud members have signed a petition calling to oust the chief of the airport workers union from the party for delaying flight departures as part of a general strike against the government’s judicial overhaul, a Likud minister said Wednesday.

After the Histadrut labor federation declared the strike Monday, Pinchas Idan announced an immediate halt to flights out of Ben Gurion Airport, leading to a number of delays.

The strike was called off later that day when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the judicial legislation to allow for talks aimed at reaching a consensus for any changes. The negotiations between the government and the opposition began Tuesday under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.

The labor action prompted backlash in Likud against Idan, a member of the party’s powerful Central Committee. According to Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli, who accused Idan of declaring an illegal strike and effectively seeking to thwart the judicial shakeup, 2,000 Likud members along with 1,000 others have joined the petition.

“The time has come to put socialist business people whose skill is bullying in their place and restore [Likud] to its original path,” Chikli said in a statement urging support for the petition.

Earlier Wednesday, Idan pushed back against the criticism, saying he agreed with the Histadrut that the strike at the airport would last for an hour.

“But then everything got messed up,” he told the Ynet news site, partly because Netanyahu delayed a planned speech.

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

Regarding claims the strike was illegal, Idan invited any inconvenienced passengers to sue him while adding he had no regrets.

“If it was really because of [the strike] that the prime minister delayed the reform and convened everyone for talks, then we prevented a civil war,” he said.

“I’m committed to only one thing — my workers,” Idan said. “I will continue to be in Likud. There are senior party members who called to support me.”

Also Wednesday, the head of the main doctors’ union sent a letter to Netanyahu urging him to publicly condemn the remarks of a Likud minister who called for disbarring medical professionals who took part in the strike.

“I demand from you to clearly and publicly condemn the words of the minister of public diplomacy and strongly demand that the members of your party and the members of the coalition refrain from offensive and inciting statements in the future,” wrote Dr. Zion Hagai.

In a tweet Tuesday, Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan called to “cancel the medical licenses” of all doctors who participated in the strike.

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Vicious people like this should not be allowed access to the sick,” she wrote.

In his letter, Hagai drew a link between Distel Atbaryan’s remarks and the mistreatment of medical workers by the public, noting a number of recent assaults.

“Unfortunately yesterday the incitement escalated… and took on a deliberate government character,” Hagai said, while vowing Israeli doctors “will not be deterred.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid on Wednesday also condemned Distel Atbaryan.

“A minister in the government that for political reasons calls to cancel the licenses of doctors who are saving lives every day… is a poisonous madness and truly dangerous,” Lapid said.

A protest outside the Knesset against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Jerusalem, March 27, 2023. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Monday’s strike came a day after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after Gallant spoke out against the judicial overhaul.

The move set off massive, nationwide protests, capping over two months of escalating demonstrations against the legislation, and also prompted strikes by labor groups, universities, local municipalities and school students.

Netanyahu paused the legislation the following day to allow for negotiations with the opposition aimed at reaching a consensus over the judicial legislation.

Tensions around the shakeup have eased considerably since the announcement of the legislative halt on Monday, but the issue remains a ticking time bomb as protest leaders believe the government still intends to go through with its radical plan to curtail the judiciary.

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