ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 63

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Protest leaders call for worker strikes nationwide Monday against judicial overhaul

Escalation in anti-government demonstrations planned to coincide with 1st round of voting on contentious legal proposals; organizers say dozens of groups have signed on

Workers from the high-tech sector protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Workers from the high-tech sector protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Protest leaders have called for a nationwide worker strike on Monday against the government’s planned overhaul of the judicial system, an escalation in the demonstrations against the contentious proposals.

The protesters also called for a mass rally outside the Knesset in Jerusalem on Monday, and protests in other cities.

The strike is meant to coincide with the first rounds of voting on the legislation.

Protest organizers said dozens of organizations, including companies and civil society groups, have joined the planned strike.

“This is the most important struggle for the state — the struggle for the independence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” protest organizers said.

“The State of Israel is in a leadership and political crisis, the likes of which we have not known since the declaration of independence,” said former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, a prominent government opponent.

“Many citizens are anxious about the future of the state. Majority rule is not the tyranny of the majority, this legislative initiative is a regime coup,” Ya’alon said at a press conference.

“The government is criminal and illegal. A black flag flies above it,” said Ya’alon, calling on labor and other organizations to allow their workers to take part in the strike.

People protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on January 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor MK Gilad Kariv on Monday called for worker strikes and mass protests, after coalition MK Simcha Rothman said the government will begin voting in committee on its plan to restructure the judiciary.

“We are coming to the movement of truth. The coalition of destruction and corruption will bring the legislation on appointing judges to a first reading [in the Knesset plenum] in the coming days,” Kariv said.

“This is the time to go from protests to strikes. In schools, in businesses, at cultural events. This is the time for demonstrations of a million citizens. This is the time for tens of thousands of people to come and demonstrate outside the Knesset on the day of the vote,” he said.

Rothman, who chairs the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, told its members to prepare for initial votes on the legislation on Wednesday. The coalition aims to hold the first readings of the bills in the Knesset plenum as early as Monday. The bills would then return to committee for further preparation, then go back to the plenum for two more readings to become law.

The opposition could slow down the process by submitting reservations, and said it wants to bring in dozens more speakers to the committee.

Rothman also last week submitted legislation aimed at restricting the right of union members to launch labor strikes.

Tech sector workers on Tuesday took to the streets for a one-hour, mostly symbolic strike and protest against the government.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of Israelis rallied at an anti-government protest for the fifth week in a row.

Workers from the high-tech sector protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on February 7, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Lawmakers will first vote on parts of the legislation that deal with the composition of the judicial selection committee and bar the High Court of Justice from exercising judicial review over Basic Laws.

This means that the remaining aspects of the overall makeover will likely be split off and advanced separately. The other parts of the legislation include the proposals to severely restrict the High Court’s power of judicial review over legislation, allow the Knesset to override a High Court decision to strike down legislation, make legislation immune from judicial review at the beginning of the legislative process, and prevent the court from using the principle of reasonableness to assess administrative decisions by the government and other state agencies.

The legislation is being passed as an amendment to the Basic Law: Judiciary, with the coalition aiming to assert that the High Court would not be able to strike it down in the likely event that petitions are filed to the court against it.

The Netanyahu coalition has prioritized the dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as the weekly protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies.

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen rather than weaken democracy, and that his government was carrying out the will of the people.

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