Thousands of workers gear up for mass strike Monday in protest of judicial shakeup

About 300 tech companies, venture capital funds and law firms are expected to gather for protest at the Knesset, as well as doctors and mental health professionals

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

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)

Hundreds of tech startups, law firms and other private sector companies have allowed tens of thousands of their employees to join a nationwide strike on Monday against the government’s contentious plans for a judicial overhaul.

Thousands are gearing up for a mass rally outside the Knesset in Jerusalem at midday on Monday, as well as at concurrent protests in other cities, to coincide with the first rounds of voting on the legislation. In addition, thousands of doctors and mental health professionals are expected to join the strike. For now, the Histadrut Labor Federation representing public sector unions does not intend to join the protest.

It is difficult to calculate the direct economic cost of the strike at this stage, as the public sector is not participating. But in the past a full nationwide strike was estimated to incur daily damages of a “few billion shekels,” according to Rafi Gozlan, chief economist at IBI Investment House.

“We wish to send a message, loud and clear, that Israel’s fragile democratic fabric must be protected,” leaders of the tech protest wrote. “The high-tech sector in Israel is a proven global miracle. It is made up of companies that were founded and built up over decades, with enormous efforts and huge financial investments.

“This is the sector that is responsible for most of the country’s economic strength and generates the most hope for the Israeli economy now and into the future.”

Among the almost 300 tech companies and venture capital funds that have already expressed support for their workers to join the strike are Payoneer, Pitango, Kaltura, Lemonade, Riskified, Wiz, Fireblocks, Appsflyer, Similarweb, IronSource, Natural Intelligence, Plantish, TLV Partners, Econcrete, Team8, Ultrasight, Algosec, Qumra Capital, Vertex Ventures, and Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP).

According to the leaders of the tech workers’ protest, more than 45 buses will be taking employees from Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Beersheba, Nahariya, and other locations to the protest in Jerusalem on Monday.

Protesters fill Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street as they rally against controversial plans to weaken the judiciary, on February 11, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

“On Monday I will be there with my family, holding up the Israeli flag, in another citizenship lesson for our children and hopefully also in a successful attempt to stop the speeding train in Jerusalem,” Keren Levy, president of Nasdaq-listed payment platform Payoneer, announced in a LinkedIn post.

“This train will harm high-tech, the economy, Israeli society, minorities and those who need the court’s protection most of all, and the delicate fabric that we were so proud of until today, which can be found everywhere in Israeli society.”

The planned private sector strike comes after a sixth successive Saturday night of demonstrations saw what organizers claimed were 145,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv, with another 83,000 in other areas across the country. Police did not provide an estimate of the turnout.

Plantish CEO Ofek Ron said the government’s plan to “weaken the Supreme Court and fundamentally change the nature of our limited and fragile democracy is a cause for alarm.”

“As a leader in the business community, I believe that it is our responsibility to stand up for the values that we hold dear and to speak out against any threat to our democracy,” said Ron. “That is why this Monday, I am joining many other leaders and heading to Jerusalem to stand up for our democracy.”

Law firm Gissin & Co. announced to clients that its “offices, just like many other businesses in our beloved country, shall be closed on Monday, in protest against the attempt of the Israeli government to undermine the independence of the judicial authority and abolish democracy in Israel.”

Israeli tech company employees stage protest in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul, January 21, 2023 (Courtesy)

Tech investor and JVP founder Erel Margalit will be leading a protest march of tech professionals and startup heads in Jerusalem who will be walking to the Knesset on Monday. “Democracy is at the heart and soul of Israel,” JVP wrote in a statement. “We must stand up for it.”

The proposed changes to Israel’s judicial system advanced by Justice Minister Yariv Levin would grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, including to the High Court; severely limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation; and enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does manage to annul with a majority of just 61 MKs.

Levin has said he is not willing to negotiate over any of the fundamental elements of the planned laws, arguing that the reforms are crucial to help rebalance the power structure in which the courts have outsized influence over elected lawmakers.

“We have a fateful week ahead of us,” said Tami Bronner, partner at Vertex Ventures. “See you tomorrow at the Knesset.”

In a letter last week, the tech workers’ protest organizers said industry employees “are deeply concerned about the financial ramifications of this new legislation.”

“We have already heard of companies and VCs withdrawing their funds, investments and holdings in Israel. We have heard of leading investment banks that have published worrying reports, and in many companies, there is already talk of transferring some or all of their activity overseas,” read the letter.

“The negative effect of these dire developments on the ability to raise funds and create new collaborations with clients and companies abroad may be critical, and can do grave and lasting damage to the high-tech sector, and as a direct result – damage the Israeli economy as a whole.”

In recent weeks, tech companies, moneymakers, business organizations, policymakers, and prominent economists have repeatedly warned that the judicial overhaul plan, which they say threatens democracy, will hurt Israel’s standing as a stable hub for investments.

The fear is that a weakening of the judiciary system will create uncertainty and scare away foreign investors from injecting funds into companies in Israel. This in turn could force local and international businesses to leave and set up shop elsewhere.

A number of Israeli unicorns have already announced that they are pulling significant funds from Israeli bank accounts and placing them abroad due to pressure from concerned foreign investors.

Israeli cybersecurity firm Wiz, valued at a staggering $6 billion and backed by US investment firms Insight Partners and Greenoaks Capital, confirmed last week that it is moving tens of millions of dollars out of Israeli banks to diversify investor funds.

Wiz joined Papaya Global, a Tel Aviv-based global payroll and payment management platform unicorn, which declared last month that it plans to withdraw all of its funds from Israel, and venture capital fund Disruptive AI, which said it would move bank accounts out of Israel in protest of the proposed judicial changes. Other firms such as Verbit and Skai announced similar decisions.

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