Israeli high-tech workers strike over plans to overhaul judiciary

Many demonstrators in Tel Aviv say changes could force businesses to move abroad

High-tech workers protest against the government’s plans to shift power from the judicial branch to the Knesset. Photograph: Abir Sultan/EPA

Workers from Israeli high-tech companies held a one-hour warning strike on Tuesday against the government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary, warning that measures which weaken democracy will undermine Israel’s status as the start-up nation.

The workers protested at three locations close to Tel Aviv business hubs, blocking traffic and waving Israeli flags and placards that read: “without freedom there is no high-tech”.

Many expressed concern that harming the system of constitutional checks and balances could force businesses to relocate abroad.

The financial sector has also expressed concern over the planned judicial reform.


Prof Karnit Flug, the former governor of the Bank of Israel, said investors need to be confident that they will be protected against arbitrary governmental decisions, adding that when the court is weak it increases risk and uncertainty, deterring investors.

“Israel has an attractive economy but high-tech investments can move quickly. If the investors are afraid, they will probably invest elsewhere,” she said.

The heads of Israel’s universities said on Monday the proposals will cause “fatal damage” to the country’s educational institutions, causing a “brain drain”.

Israel’s politicians urged to show ‘restraint’ amid plans to change judicial systemOpens in new window ]

Tuesday’s protests followed huge demonstrations over the weekend when about 130,000 Israelis took to the streets warning that democracy was in danger.

The new right-wing government led by Binyamin Netanyahu has prioritised shifting power from the judicial branch to the Knesset parliament. Efforts have expedited in response to last week’s high court decision preventing Arieh Deri, leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, from serving as a minister due to convictions for tax offences.

Among the measures being fast-tracked through the Knesset by the government are the removal of the high court’s right to block legislation, granting more power for parliamentarians in the selection of judges and significantly limiting the authority of government legal advisers.

The Institute for National Security Studies, in a report published on Tuesday, said deterioration of democracy and growing political polarisation pose significant short-term strategic threats to Israel.

President Yitzhak Herzog said he has been working for several weeks in an effort to avert a historic constitutional crisis and to end the divisions in Israeli society.

Mr Herzog described the proposed judicial reform as dramatic, adding that when pushed through at high speed and in the absence of dialogue, the reform has elicited a great deal of resistance and anxiety about the future of Israeli democracy among large sections of society, a process that is leading Israel to a dangerous situation.

“I call on leaders to act responsibly and to strive to achieve broad agreements, and not [their opponents’] submission,” he said. “The absence of dialogue is tearing us apart from within, and this powder keg is on the verge of exploding.”

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss

Mark Weiss is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Jerusalem