Powerful labor union warns government of action if no judicial compromise reached

Alongside head of business umbrella group, Histadrut head Arnon Bar-David gives ‘full support’ for deal based on President Herzog’s as-yet-unrevealed proposals

Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut labor federation, speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv, December 7, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

The head of the Histadrut labor union said Sunday that the organization was giving its “full support” to an as-yet-unrevealed compromise deal being drafted by President Isaac Herzog for the government’s contentious judicial shakeup push.

Arnon Bar-David did warn, however, that if such an agreement was not reached, the powerful union would not “stand idly by.”

Bar-David met with Herzog in Jerusalem earlier in the day, together with Dovi Amitai, head of the Israeli Presidency of Business Organizations, an umbrella group that represents businesses in sectors such as agriculture, hospitality, and construction.

The two later released a statement expressing their “full support for the institution of the presidency and the emerging presidential outline” for dialogue over the coalition’s effort to overhaul the judiciary. The government is seeking full control over the appointment of all judges, including Supreme Court justices, and practically eliminating the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down legislation.

The two labor leaders also expressed “grave concern” for expected “damage to the economy amid the emerging reform.” They called on “all members of the Knesset and all political parties on the right and the left to stop the madness gripping Israeli society and to show responsibility and leadership for the future of their country.”

If a compromise based on Herzog’s proposals is not found, they said they would “not stand idly by,” possibly hinting at broader labor actions against the coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Histadrut, the national trade union, has some 800,000 members. Histadrut members have not joined the wave of growing protests against the government’s judicial push in any organized way so far. Historically, Histadrut strikes over public sector wages and conditions have had profound impact on the country and its economy.

Last month, the labor federation declined to take part in a “national day of struggle,” amid speculation that it was not looking for a fight with the new coalition before a new wage agreement could be finalized, with Bar-David repeatedly calling for compromise. A new wage deal was signed earlier this month.

Bar-David’s remark on Sunday could be viewed as a possible change of course for the organization, if no compromise deal is reached, as protesters have vowed to dial up demonstrations.

Over 300,000 Israelis rallied Saturday night across the country in the 10th consecutive week of demonstrations against the government’s proposals.

Israelis protest against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on March 11, 2023. (Avshalom Saassoni/Flash90)

Earlier Sunday, Herzog met with MK Simcha Rothman, the head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, in a bid to advance the compromise deal, the specific details of which have yet to be revealed.

In the three-hour meeting Sunday, Herzog emphasized to Rothman the need for broad agreement on the legislation for the benefit of the country, according to the president’s spokesperson.

Last month, the president had outlined a five-point plan for talks, warning that the country was on the verge of “societal and constitutional collapse.”

Herzog reiterated some of these warnings in a televised address to the nation on Thursday, in which he spoke more openly against the ruling coalition, calling on the government to scrap its “oppressive” proposals and instead hold dialogue with opposition parties to reach a compromise.

President Isaac Herzog delivers an address to the nation over the government’s judicial overhaul legislation, March 9, 2023. (GPO)

He called the national crisis over the coalition’s effort to weaken the judiciary was “a disaster” and “a nightmare,” and insisted it was the responsibility of “the leaders of the state” in the government to put aside the breakneck legislative charge, lest the country descend into a societal and constitutional abyss.

During his speech, the president announced that in his discussions with representatives on both sides of the political divide, he has managed to create a formula for agreement on the majority of the major disputes at the heart of the crisis, and said this outline should be passed to the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for debate in place of the government’s current, fast-advancing legislation.

Rothman said at a committee meeting Sunday that he strongly disagreed with Herzog’s remarks Thursday but that the door was open for talks. “We won’t close the door no matter how much people act and speak against us. Through negotiation, it is possible to reach an agreed-upon solution if people decide that they seek the good of the country and don’t want to burn it,” he said.

In January, Rothman submitted a bill aimed at restricting the right of union members to launch labor strikes. The bill specifically targets the right to strike of essential workers in the national electricity, water, ports, public transportation and health fields, along with the Israeli Stock Exchange and the Bank of Israel.

The legislation would strip protections from a labor union that strikes in solidarity with a cause that does not directly impact its line of work. Rothma’s move was seen as a means of preventing the Histadrut from joining the nationwide protests against the government.

Most Popular
read more: