Tech firms say will counter potential boycott of chain

Mall chain threatens strike if bill to curtail judicial oversight clears first vote

Lapid urges Histadrut labor federation to call general strike as overhaul opponents prepare to demonstrate Tuesday against coalition’s renewed push to weaken judiciary

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

A chain of shopping centers threatened Sunday to close malls across Israel if a bill that would block courts from exercising judicial review over the “reasonableness” of government decisions is advanced by the Knesset this week.

The legislation, part of the right-religious coalition’s plans for weakening the judiciary, is slated to be approved Monday in the first of the three plenum votes it must pass to become law. In response, protest organizers have called for a demonstration Tuesday “such as has never been seen before in Israel” and dozens of tech firms have told workers they can take the day off to demonstrate.

Amid growing calls for others to protest, Big Shopping Centers said the two dozen malls it operates nationwide would be shuttered Tuesday if the bill clears its first reading, denouncing the proposal as “another step on the path to dictatorship.”

“Legislation like this would be a fatal blow to business and economic certainty in Israel, and will directly and immediately endanger our existence as a leading company in Israel,” Big said in a statement. “When the country is trembling and torn from within, we cannot sit on the sidelines.”

The firm also vowed “to intensify our steps” if the legislation further advances.

The announcement was denounced by coalition members, with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir calling for a boycott of Big’s malls until it apologizes. Ben Gvir, who heads the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, insisted the vote would take place “despite all those acting thuggishly.”

Some store owners also slammed Big, lamenting expected losses due to the strike and predicting their businesses would bear the brunt of the boycott.

“They are destroying our livelihood,” an unnamed store owner at the Big in Beit Shemesh told Kan public radio. “Anyone who wants to protest should passionately do so — this is a democratic country — but they put us in a corner and didn’t give us the right to choose.”

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the boycott calls, numerous tech firms and startups announced they would start buying supplies for their businesses at Big and not purchase from any company that sues the shopping mall operator over the strike.

“The tech sector has huge purchasing power between companies, employees, and their families, and directing it to strengthen BIG is an extremely important goal,” dozens of tech companies said in a statement.

“We call on more businesses to show courage like BIG and for the public to support companies that stand up against the threat to democracy. In addition, we will not buy from companies that sue BIG because of the courage it showed,” the statement read.

Labor party member Yaya Fink urged supporters of a consumer advocacy group he leads to shop at Big malls.

“Go this week to buy there,” Fink tweeted.

Israelis protest against the judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on July 8, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Along with the tech companies and Big, over a hundred academic staff members and students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem declared their support for the protests in an open letter published Sunday.

Also Sunday, opposition leader Yair Lapid urged the Histadrut labor federation to also go on strike.

“It needs to be part of [the protests]. Workers’ rights will be harmed,” Lapid told Army Radio.

There was no immediate comment from the Histadrut, which in late March joined a daylong general strike triggered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s since-reversed decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant for calling to pause the judicial legislation amid growing unrest over the overhaul. The strike was called off the same day after Netanyahu agreed to pause the legislation to allow for negotiations with the opposition.

Those judicial reform talks, which President Isaac Herzog brokered, have since broken down, leading government opponents to call to ramp up demonstrations and the coalition to resume its efforts to unilaterally alter Israel’s judicial system.

Lapid said he expected that all coalition members would back the so-called reasonableness bill in its first reading but held out hope that could change in future votes.

“There’s a good chance there will be people… who say ‘that’s enough,'” Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, added in the radio interview.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid speaks during a Yesh Atid faction meeting at the Knesset on July 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Saturday, protesters rallied nationwide for the 27th week in a row, as the political fight over the proposed shakeup of the judiciary grows increasingly tense. Organizers said Tuesday’s demonstration would be “July’s first Day of Resistance” and would include rallies, protest convoys, disruptions throughout the country starting at 7 a.m. and another largescale protest at Ben Gurion Airport at 4 p.m.

They also announced protests outside the US embassy branch office in Tel Aviv and the President’s Residence in Jerusalem will be held at 6:30 p.m., followed by further rallies later Tuesday evening.

“If the government doesn’t stop — the whole country will stop,” they said.

In addition to the demonstrations, increasing numbers of reservists have renewed threats not to volunteer for service if the legislation passes.

The protests have been ongoing since January when Justice Minister Yariv Levin revealed the overhaul plans and recently ramped up again as Netanyahu’s hardline coalition has renewed its legislative push. Opponents say the proposed measures are a threat to Israel’s democratic character and will leave the rights of minorities unprotected, while supporters argue they are needed to curb the powers of a judiciary they say is unrestrained.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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