Israel grinds to halt as 'unprecedented' strikes against judicial reforms begin

Country's biggest union called industrial action against government's legal reforms

Flights out of Israel's international airport have been grounded following strike call from the country's largest trade union group. AP
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Turmoil engulfed Israel on Monday as the country’s largest labour union instructed all state workers to strike in protest at government plans to drastically change the country’s judicial system.

The union, Histadrut, represents 800,000 members and declared the action “historic”.

There was widespread confusion at the country’s main airport as industrial action led to the cancellation of all departures, with the prospect of international arrivals that had not already taken off also being cancelled.

Airline bosses are particularly concerned about the effect on the industry as Israel prepares for the Jewish holiday of Passover.

The country’s two main maritime ports, Haifa and Ashdod, were shut.

“We are all worried about Israel’s fate … We have lost our way — this is not about left or right. We can no longer polarise the nation,” the union’s leader, Arnon Bar-David, said.

Industrial action is also being felt abroad, as support for it grows among Israel’s diplomatic corps. American broadcaster CNN reported an Israeli official saying that the country’s embassy in Washington would close following the union’s call for strikes.

In Jerusalem, shopping malls were silent as the retail sector heeded the call to strike in opposition to what it described as “madness”.

On Sunday, a group of universities announced they would shut their doors from Monday.

“We, the heads of Israel’s research universities, presidents, rectors, and management, will stop studies in all of Israel’s research universities starting tomorrow morning, amid the continuation of the legislative process that undermines the foundations of Israeli democracy and endangers its continued existence,” a joint statement read.

Three local mayors and two heads of regional councils began a hunger strike outside the Jerusalem Prime Minister’s Office.

Israel’s security establishment is preparing for violent clashes outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, as right-wing counter-demonstrators, some of whom advocate violence, prepare to rally in support of the government.

In his first comments since sacking Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday over his support for pausing the judicial reforms, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked for both sides to “show responsibility and not act violently”.

Updated: March 28, 2023, 5:58 AM