Netanyahu, union chief deny reports they coordinated on Monday strike

Reports claim PM sought action by Histadrut, to create pressure on his own government to halt judicial overhaul legislation

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)

Several reports in Hebrew-language media have claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office coordinated with the Histadrut on Monday when the major labor union announced a general strike throughout the country, a move that played a part in the government’s decision to pause its judicial overhaul legislation to allow talks with the opposition.

The reports claimed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu arranged the strike in order to create pressure on his own government and give him justification to halt the legislation desired by many of his coalition allies.

Both the Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David and the prime minister denied the claims on Thursday,

The daylong stoppage was called amid mounting opposition to the government’s judicial revamp plans, after Netanyahu announced he was giving Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the boot in the wake of the latter publicly urging a halt.

Kan news, citing unnamed sources, reported that Yonatan Urich, an adviser to Netanyahu, coordinated with Histadrut officials throughout the day on the timing and content of press conferences held by Netanyahu and the labor union’s Bar-David. It also said the premier’s wife Sara spoke with officials close to Bar-David, telling them to pressure the government to work towards broad agreements on judicial reform.

Sara issued a rare public statement last week in which she called for both sides to “calm the waters and work together for a broad agreement among the people of Israel.”

The reports were followed by an interview given by Pinchas Idan, the head of the Airport Workers Union, which is part of the Histadrut, who told the Israel Hayom daily on Thursday that “Bar-David said we will hold a press conference, and an hour later the prime minister will announce he is stopping the legislation and the mess will be over.”

Idan, a Likud party member, announced an immediate halt to flights out of Ben Gurion Airport, after the strike was called, leading to several delays.

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara depart for Rome on March 9, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“[Bar-David] said that everything was arranged with the people it needed to be arranged with,” Idan said, not explicitly mentioning or quoting the Prime Minister’s Office.

When asked if he believed Netanyahu and Bar-David had coordinated, Idan said, “Probably. [Bar-David] never surprised me, I trusted him 100 percent,” adding he had no idea if Netanyahu himself had pushed for the strike.

About 2,000 Likud members have signed a petition calling to oust Idan from the party for his role in the general strike.

Bar-David denied the claims the strike had been coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office in a statement on Thursday.

“The fairy tale that’s been spun about the strike being planned or coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office is a baseless claim, a media fabrication that has nothing to do with the truth,” he said in a statement.

Bar-David also defended the decision to call Monday’s strike, emphasizing: “What always guides me in my decisions is the well-being of the country.”

Netanyahu’s Likud party also denied the reports.

“Not only did Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara not have any involvement in the strike, they strongly opposed it and made this clear to the Histadrut chair and his wife in a telephone conversation after the strike was called. They said that the strike was a serious error and harmed Israeli citizens and that it needed to end immediately,”

Israelis block the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv during a protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul on March 26, 2023, hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter asked to stop the legislative effort. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s ousting of Gallant on Sunday set off nationwide nighttime protests, capping over two months of escalating demonstrations against the legislation, and also prompted strikes by labor groups, universities, local municipalities, and school students.

The strike was called off on Monday evening when Netanyahu paused the judicial legislation to allow for talks aimed at reaching a consensus for judicial reform. The negotiations between the government and the opposition began Tuesday under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.

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 plans in a few weeks’ time.

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