Israel’s PM Urges Calm As Strikes Paralyze Nation (Videos)

Monday, March 27, 2023 | Tag Cloud

By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News

JERUSALEM (Worthy News)— Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for calm as hundreds of thousands of people stopped working Monday to protest his planned overhaul of the country’s judiciary.

As thousands flooded the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, waving Israeli flags and placards, Netanyahu took to the social network platform Twitter to say: “I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently. We are brothers.”

But much of Israel remained paralyzed as work stoppages and protests spread, including Israel’s main Ben Gurion International Airport, 45 kilometers (28 miles) northwest of Jerusalem, where all outgoing flights are halted.

Two of Israel’s main seaports, Haifa and Ashdod, said separately that they would shut down to support the general strike.

Peter Lerner, the head of international relations at Histadrut, the Israeli trade union umbrella group representing some 700,000 workers, published a video of cheering activists. He said the group’s chairman, Arnon Bar-David, had just told the meeting: “We are stopping the legal revolution.”

“This is the time that together we bring Israel back to sanity and the right path. This is the time that we together say ‘enough,’ and it doesn’t matter if we are right or left,” Histadrut said.

Big brands are participating in the protest: Fast food chain McDonald’s said it would begin closing its restaurants nationwide from midday before a full national closure two hours later.

UNIVERSITIES CLOSE

Universities across the Jewish nation also stopped classes to express frustration over the perceived government takeover of the judiciary that they say threatens democracy.

In addition, Israel’s diplomatic staff were on strike Monday on the advice of their trade union, and Israel’s embassies in Washington and around the world shut as a result. Some diplomats replaced their social media profile pictures with the Israeli flag.

Israel’s consul general in New York, Asaf Zamir, announced Sunday night he would resign after 18 months in the job over the judicial changes and the defense minister’s firing.

Netanyahu was due to deliver a speech to the nation in the morning, Israeli media reported, but television stations later said those plans had been suspended. It was not clear when or even if he would speak Monday.

Anger even spread to Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, where opposition members attacked Simcha Rothman, a committee chairman who shepherded the judicial bill, with cries of “Shame! Shame!”.

“This is a hostile takeover of the State of Israel. No need for Hamas, no need for Hezbollah,” one lawmaker was heard saying to Rothman as the constitution committee continues with a vital part of the bill due to be ratified this week. He was referring to the anti-Israel terrorist groups.

The bill increases political control over the judiciary. It would give the executive control over appointing judges to the Supreme Court and allow the government to override court rulings based on a parliamentary majority.

ACTIVIST JUDGES?

The government claims the overhaul is needed to rein in activist judges and set a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary. But opponents see it as an undermining of legal checks and balances and a threat to Israel’s democracy.

Netanyahu, on trial on corruption charges that he denies, initially vowed to continue with the project but appeared to soften his tone early Monday after appeals from Israel’s ceremonial President, Isaac Herzog. “The entire nation is rapt with deep worry. Our security, economy, society — all are under threat,” Herzog said. “Wake up now!”

The publicly announced resistance to the plan by the president came hours after tens of thousands of people burst into the streets overnight around the country in a spontaneous show of anger.

Demonstrators reacted to Netanyahu’s decision on Sunday to fire his defense minister, Yoav Gallant after he spoke out against the plan citing security concerns.

International pressure was also growing over Netanyahu’s planned overhaul.

The White House released a statement from the National Security Council on Sunday night that said the most recent protests “further underscore the urgent need for compromise.”

“As the president recently discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu, democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” it said.

The ongoing turmoil also impacted Israel’s financial markets. As trading opened on Monday, Israel’s national currency shekel, which saw big swings over recent weeks, fell 0.7 percent in early trading before recovering some ground as expectations grew the legislation would be halted.

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