Rothman threatens ‘political’ response to labor federation’s strike against overhaul

Chair of Knesset law committee says nationwide shutdown organized by Histadrut was illegal, warns it to expect consequences

MK Simcha Rotman, chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Simcha Rotman, chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, during a committee meeting at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on March 27, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The far-right chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday threatened the country’s main labor union after it called a strike in opposition to the government’s plans for the drastic overhaul of the judiciary.

MK Simcha Rothman, a key architect of the overhaul, told Army Radio that the strike organized Monday by the Histadrut labor federation was “illegal” because it was called for political purposes and said that it only harmed workers’ rights.

Rothman, of the Religious Zionism party, said that if someone makes use of their economic power or that of a workers’ organization for political purposes, “it should come as no surprise that action will be taken against him in the same way, for political reasons.”

Rothman, who did not clarify what such action might entail, also directed his remarks at businesses and companies that joined the strike.

The Histadrut called the strike Monday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister Yoav Gallant for urging a halt to the government’s legislative blitz to politicize and constrain the judiciary. Firing Gallant prompted mass demonstrations across the country against the legislation, which has already faced weeks of protests attended by hundreds of thousands of people.

Following the strike declaration, flights out of the country’s main international gateway Ben Gurion Airport were halted for hours. Stores, companies, and banks across the country began to close their doors on Monday afternoon as they joined the strike. Tech companies shut their doors and restaurant chains such as McDonald’s and Aroma announced that they too would cease operations. Multiple hotel chains said they were also joining the strike, offering very limited services to guests.

Netanyahu later that evening announced that he was pausing the legislation to prevent “civil war” and enable dialogue with opposition parties on the matter, at which point the Histadrut immediately called off the strike.

Travelers at Ben Gurion Airport as flights are being delayed due workers going on strike in protest against the government’s judicial overhaul, March 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Rothman told Army Radio he was not disappointed by Netanyahu’s move but nevertheless said he doesn’t think it was right to halt the legislation.

He said the government was being “responsible” by announcing the pause, while accusing the opposition of having acted “with extreme irresponsibility.”

Histadrut chair Arnon Bar-David had previously suggested the federation could take action if no compromise judicial reform deal was reached, but had until Monday refrained from involving the powerful union in the demonstrations against the far-reaching proposals to curb the judiciary. Historically, Histadrut strikes over public sector wages and conditions have had a profound impact on the country and its economy.

Last month, the Histadrut 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.

The judicial changes will remove the Supreme Court’s ability to act as a check against the government by enabling parliament to overrule it and legislate laws even if the court strikes them down. The government will also gain control of the panel that selects court judges, among other far-reaching changes.

Arnon Bar-David, chairman of the Histadrut, speaks at a press conference attended by heads from the Israeli commerce sector at the Histadrut Union in Tel Aviv on March 27, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

There have been weekly mass protests for nearly three months against the planned legislation, and a rising wave of objections by top public figures including the president, jurists and business leaders.

President Isaac Herzog has pleaded with the government to abandon its “oppressive” judicial overhaul and replace it with a framework for consensual reform.

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