Israeli diplomats in Canada briefly went on strike Monday over Prime Minister Benjaminn Netayahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system.
The diplomats’ move followed instructions given to Israeli missions worldwide to walk off the job, in line with a decision by the country’s largest trade union, Histadrut, which launched the job action on March 27.
For several hours, the Israeli embassy and its consulates in Toronto and Montreal were only providing emergency services, a spokesperson told Global News in an email. However, after Netanyahu announced a delay into his plan Monday afternoon, the embassy said it would resume operations.
Netanyahu said he wanted to give time to seek a compromise over the contentious package with his political opponents.
The strike by the Histadrut umbrella group, which represents nearly 800,000 workers in health, transit and banking, among many other fields, could’ve paralyzed large parts of Israel’s economy.
After taking power late last year, key figures in Netanyahu’s Likud Party, along with his governing partners, pledged to quickly overhaul the country’s judicial system. Critics have said it is driven by a desire to push their ideological agendas with less judicial oversight.
Opponents have said the overhaul would upend the country’s delicate system of checks and balances. They also claim Netanyahu has a deep conflict of interest in trying to reshape the legal system while on trial for corruption in three separate cases.
The government says the legal changes are necessary to streamline governance in the face of an interventionist judiciary.
Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly told reporters on Monday afternoon that she has told her Israeli counterpart that “we’re concerned with the judicial reform and we need to make sure that we continue to call on Israel to find a path forward that is supported by the people.”
What was fuelling the latest unrest?
Israel has experienced nearly three months of mass protests since the overhaul was unveiled.
However, after Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant on Sunday over his opposition to the overhaul, tens of thousands of people blocked Tel Aviv’s main highway, and thousands more demonstrated outside Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home.
Gallant was the first minister to break ranks and publicly call for a delay in the overhaul. Gallant said that pushing ahead could hurt Israel’s military readiness as soldiers were threatening not to report for duty.
Gallant was among the most respected members of the new government, and by attacking the man responsible for national security, Netanyahu may have crossed a red line – and unwittingly united this deeply polarized country by touching upon national security, one of the few areas of consensus.
What made this strike different?
While Histadrut has crippled parts of the economy in past labour disputes over the years, it has never gone on strike to protest a political matter.
The decision was felt almost immediately. Israel’s main international airport cancelled all outgoing flights, stranding more than 70,000 travellers. Doctors and daycare workers said they would stay off the job, and others were expected to join.
— with files from The Associated Press
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