Netanyahu bickers with union-leading political rival over train strikes

PM says Blue and White’s Avi Nissenkorn would create ‘labor union economy’ if made finance minister; Histadrut chairman notes ailing train network was built by Likud government

Histadrut leader Avi Nissenkorn attends a hearing at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem on December 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Histadrut leader Avi Nissenkorn attends a hearing at the National Labor Court in Jerusalem on December 5, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday used ongoing train strikes to attack a senior member of his main election rival, the Blue and White party, warning that if Histadrut labor federation chairman Avi Nissenkorn becomes finance minister it will lead to the whole country going on strike.

Nissenkorn didn’t hold back, charging in response that Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for the past 10 years, was “looking for someone to blame for failures of his own leadership, and for his and the transportation minister’s disgraceful failure to look after the country’s public transportation.”

The Israel Railways workers’ union brought trains across the country to a five-minute halt on Tuesday as a warning strike after management walked away from labor talks earlier in the day.

Train drivers are demanding steps be taken to lessen their workload.

The train stoppages “must come to an end immediately,” Netanyahu tweeted and then went on to attack Nissenkorn, number five on the Blue and White slate led by party chief Benny Gantz.

“Nissenkorn, Lapid’s and Gantz’s [candidate for] finance minister, will put the whole country on strike,” Netanyahu warned. “He will take us back to the Histadrut [labor union] economy that would hurt us all. That must not be allowed to happen. We have to keep moving forward with a right-wing Likud government — a free economy that opens up the market to competition and reduces prices for the benefit of the citizens.”

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz, left, seen with mayors of the southern Israeli towns on an Ashkelon-Beersheba train leaving from the southern Israeli city of Netivot, September 17, 2015. (Haim Zach/GPO)

In a statement, Nissenkorn shot back: “He can blame everyone else also for the failure to buy more [train] cars, which caused the enormous load on the train system, or for the fact that a decade after the start of work, the Jerusalem [fast] rail line [to Tel Aviv] still stops half-way at Ben Gurion Airport.”

But, said Nissenkorn, “lies won’t help him…. Reality can’t be faked.”

Nissenkorn noted that the State Comptroller’s Office is expected to publish its annual report on the railway system on Wednesday. “Tomorrow we will read in a State Comptroller report about the neglect of the public transit system and know what is already clear to everyone — Netanyahu cares only about Netanyahu,” he predicted.

Transportation Minister Israel Katz, of Netanyahu’s Likud party, slammed the labor union action on Tuesday, saying the union was an obstacle to reorganization efforts meant to improve service as the national rail system has undergone an expansion in recent years.

“It’s a shame that Avi Nissenkorn’s people in the Histadrut are helping these strikes, and not preventing the strikes and the harm they are doing to passengers,” Katz said.

An Israeli train station (illustrative photo credit: Roni Schutzer/Flash90)
Illustrative photo of an Israeli train station (Roni Schutzer/Flash90)

He said the country’s train system must undergo “a reorganization to improve service after its expansion” in recent years. “The workers union has to cooperate with this process, instead of trying to prevent it. Strikes and harm to the passengers are unacceptable.”

The strikes have seen a complete stoppage for the past three days of the line between the northern towns of Karmiel and Hof HaCarmel, and the line between the central Israeli cities of Lod and Rishon Lezion.

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