Teva layoffs leave Israel sickened
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Hebrew media review

Teva layoffs leave Israel sickened

The drug-maker's reorganization has many up in arms and worried for the future, though pundits caution the bitter pill must be swallowed

An Israeli system engineer keeps watch over a production line at the Teva factory in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
An Israeli system engineer keeps watch over a production line at the Teva factory in Jerusalem. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

It’s easily forgotten that in Israel, like pretty much any other place, bread and butter economic issues will generally be more important than security threats. Thus it was on Thursday morning that even with tensions rising on the Gaza border to levels not seen since the last time war broke out, the main issue in the press is the impending massive round of layoffs at pharma giant Teva.

The papers don’t just cover the expected firings, but offer coverage dripping with anger (and medical puns) over the move.

“They got billions and will fire thousands,” reads the main headline of Israel Hayom, telegraphing one of the main complaints against the company, which received sweetheart tax subsidies on its way to becoming one of the biggest firms in the country and a multinational behemoth that put Israel on the map when Waze was still in its diapers.

Another headline in the paper calls the firings “Teva’s cruel move.”

“The Hanukkah lighting ceremony at Teva’s Kiryat Shmona plant last night was especially depressing. The news that the company was set to fire between a third and a half of its Israeli workforce made it seem especially bad,” the paper’s lede reads, playing up the sad-sackiness of the workers.

Yedioth also plays up the so-called treachery of Teva, reporting high up that the company’s tax breaks were meant to keep workers in Israel, but it will now close down facilities in Israel and move operations to cheaper climes overseas.

Zooming in to give a taste of how workers are taking the news (aside from lighting candles sadly) the paper focuses on one Yehudit Ben-Sheetrit, found chain-smoking outside the Kiryat Shmona plant.

“I’ve gone through tough times in my life. I fell down and got up again, but now they are trying to push me down again,” the Chumbawamba wannabe is quoted saying. “I broke my teeth to make a respectable living, without help. I gave my soul to this plant. I hope this is all a bad dream and in the morning I’ll wake up from it.”

Haaretz’s front page coverage has much less pathos, though it does quote labor leader Avi Nissenkorn, who called a general strike for Sunday over the issue, as saying the now-deceased founders of Teva are “spinning in their graves,” highlighting a bit of the hyperbole around the issue (in the paper’s English edition, Labor MK Shelly Yachimovich’s comparison of the layoffs to a terror attack gets play).

Columnist Sami Peretz in the paper calls it the biggest labor fight in 30 years and notes fears that as Teva reorganizes, this round of layoffs may only be the beginning; hence Nissenkorn’s drastic measures.

“Teva isn’t about to close, but it’s fighting for its life,” he writes. “Nissenkorn has three reasons for his move: to get the politicians involved so they will pressure Teva, to shrink the size of the layoffs in Israel as much as possible and to get Teva’s management to make clear its intentions regarding what future it sees for itself in Israel. The fear is that the current layoffs are just the appetizer for another move to end operations in Israel.”

Columnists, though, also note that Teva may have no choice, given its struggles to get back into the black.

“Teva’s current management, which inherited the troubles of their predecessors, got a company that needs first and foremost to serve its shareholders, like any person who takes a loan from the bank and needs to pay it back,” Roee Bergman writes in Yedioth. “In a situation in which Teva’s profits are falling, it has no choice but to take quick and painful measures to stabilize itself.”

In Israel Hayom, Eran Bar-Tal takes aim at those trying to rush to the workers’ defense, who he says may end up doing more harm than good.

“MKs and elected officials who jumped all over the company in anger can’t do so,” Bar-Tal writes. “They can talk about getting the company to stay, helping it sell off parts of factories, some of which are even profitable, like the one in Kiryat Shmona and Teva Tech in Neot Hovav, but they can’t force the company to hold on to workers it cannot hold on to. If ministers rush to open the public coffers to the company to get it to delay the firings until the next government and the Histadrut labor union is willing to suffer secondary damage through strikes, we will find that the consequences of the proposed firings are worse than the firings themselves.”

Even with Israel’s hivemind in a drug-maker-induced craze, the winds of war with Gaza aren’t totally ignored by the papers.

Israel Hayom writes that “tensions are getting more serious” after more rockets were fired Wednesday night, quoting a defense official telling Channel 2 news that Israel’s responses will get harsher if the fire doesn’t stop.

In Yedioth, Yossi Yehoshua declares that whatever deterrent effect was created by the 2014 war is now gone.

“Until now, we’ve been told that Hamas has managed to keep a lid on competing groups in Gaza and prevent fire from Israel,” he writes. “In the last few days either Hamas hasn’t been trying or it can’t manage them anymore, and the first answer seems to make more sense.”

It may be thousands of miles away and have little actual effect on the country, but Roy Moore’s Senate loss in Alabama creates a big enough shockwave that it makes it to Haaretz’s front page, where columnist Chemi Shalev writes that Doug Jones’s win dinged US President Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, sexual predators and more. But he cautions against getting too excited.

“Moore’s defeat is a triumph for light over darkness, for decency over depravity, for integrity over anarchy,” he writes. “Nonetheless, one shouldn’t forget that Moore was a particularly preposterous candidate or that Alabama, in the end, is just Alabama, one of the most neglected and backwards states in the Union.”

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