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Israel’s Largest Labor Union Warns of General Strike After Controversial Judicial Reform

By Mara Lafontaine · July 25, 2023

In brief…

  • Israel's parliament has passed a bill limiting the Supreme Court's power.
  • Peter Lerner, Director General of the International Relations Division at Histadrut, Israel's largest union, voiced deep misgivings over the legislation.
  • Arnon Bar-David, the chairman of Histadrut, is taking steps towards a possible general strike.
  • Lerner warned that the legislation could have negative economic consequences on Israel.
  • A former IDF spokesman, Lerner is considering resigning from his military reserve status.
Israel's Knesset - Wiki Commons  U.S. Embassy Jerusalem, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Israel’s parliament has passed the so-called “reasonableness bill” limiting the powers of the Supreme Court. Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, Director General of the International Relations Division at Histadrut, Israel’s largest labor union, declared his deep concerns over the controversial legislation and warned of a potential general strike.

Lerner attributed the failure of mediation efforts over the past seven months what to what he termed “political whims.” He criticized both sides of the political spectrum for prioritizing their own interests over those of Israeli society, calling today’s political events “a tragedy.”

Lerner told CNN, “The government [has been] ignoring all of what the people had to say… [Netanyahu] missed a historic opportunity to bring the country back together.” Lerner stressed that Histadrut would not allow the country to further spiral further into division and polarization.

Histadrut, which represents approximately 800,000 workers, about a quarter of Israel’s workforce, is preparing for a robust response. Lerner said that Histadrut’s chairman, Arnon Bar-David, will soon declare a labor dispute and possibly a general strike.

Lerner explained that after a dispute is declared, there is a minimum of “15 days of due process” before a general strike can take place. However, he emphasized there other options such as slowdowns, stoppages, walkouts, and individual union strikes that can play out in the interim.

Lerner bemoaned the potential impact of the legislative changes on the economy. “Everybody is showing concern - everybody except the government, who thinks that they’re living on a different planet,” he said sadly.

Noting his past role as a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), Lerner said he was debating whether to maintain his reserve status or resign, reflecting the deep conflicts this bill has elicited among the country’s defense forces.