Hundreds of tech workers are on strike, blocking the road to Tel Aviv to protest judicial review

Hundreds of tech workers are on strike, blocking the road to Tel Aviv to protest judicial review

Hundreds of workers in the tech sector staged an hour-long warning strike on Tuesday, blocking roads in central Tel Aviv as they protested the government’s controversial plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Dozens of Israeli companies and organizations have allowed their employees to attend demonstrations being held across the country.

Demonstrators gathered at three main locations – the Sarona complex in Tel Aviv, a high-tech complex in Herzliya and the Airport City business park – many of them carrying Israeli flags.

“No high tech without democracy. Even without ChatGPT, we know you’re wrong,” read some of the signs held by the striking workers, referring to the artificial intelligence tool. Others read: “No freedom, no high tech.”

“The Supreme Court protects us all,” some protesters chanted.

Towards the end of the hour-long strike, protesters around Tel Aviv’s Sarona complex took to busy Kaplan Street — the site of one of Saturday’s mass protests — where they briefly blocked traffic.

Tech workers block a street in Tel Aviv on January 24, 2023 to protest judicial review (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The planned overhaul has drawn strong criticism, even from longtime proponents of judicial reform, and has led to weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, private companies and other agencies.

More than 100,000 people demonstrated in Tel Aviv Saturday night against the revision, and thousands more at other demonstrations, including in Jerusalem, Haifa and Beersheba.

“It is not every day that we see high-tech men and women, and many more from the private sector, interrupting their work to wave a warning flag together because our democracy is in danger. And when democracy is in danger, the economy is in danger,” said Yinon Costica, co-founder of Israeli cybersecurity company Wiz, speaking at the protest. “Our concern is the trust of foreign investors, foreign customers and foreign employees.”

“That same trust that has been built up with a lot of labor can very easily fade because of a really bad piece of legislation that overrides the courts,” Costica said.

Among the other companies that allowed employees to participate in the protest against the law changes proposed by Attorney General Yariv Levin were Lemonade, Natural Intelligence, Wiz, Redis, HoneyBook and Forter.

The strike came as many Israeli companies, lenders and business organizations have publicly expressed concern in recent weeks that the judicial review plan is poised to threaten democracy and harm the thriving local tech industry.

Many fear that a weakening of the justice system will cause foreign investors to shy away from financing companies in the country and force companies to leave and relocate.

As presented by Levin, the coalition’s proposals would severely limit the Supreme Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause” that would allow the Knesset to re-enact overturned laws with an absolute majority of 61; giving the government full control over the selection of judges; prevent the courts from using a test of “reasonableness” to review legislation and government decisions; and allows ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, rather than being assisted by advisers operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice.

Levin has called the proposals “the first phase” of his planned overhaul; further changes are said to be made at a later stage.

Israeli workers stage an hour-long strike in Tel Aviv against the government’s overhaul plan. (courtesy)

“Ninety percent of the money invested in [Israeli] high-tech comes from abroad and is at stake here,” Costica said. “Without these investments, high tech will take a fatal blow and the tens of billions of shekels of taxpayers’ money that funded the safety, health, education and well-being of every citizen will evaporate.”

New York-based investment and private equity firm Insight Partners, which has become one of the largest investors in Israeli startups in recent years, sent a letter Monday to its Israeli portfolio companies expressing its position on the “political turmoil unfolding unfolds in Israel,” and supporting “the high-tech ecosystem in Israel as they speak out in support of democracy, equality, and equal opportunity.”

“We are grateful for the open dialogue with our Israeli portfolio companies who have reached out to us to share their concerns,” Insight Partners wrote. “We uphold the principles of democracy, equality and equal opportunity, and we condemn acts that seek to suppress personal freedoms or acts of hatred, violence or discrimination.”

Two former Bank of Israel governors, Karnit Flug and Jacob Frenkel, said this week that the government’s plans for a major overhaul of the country’s judiciary could negatively affect Israel’s creditworthiness and create “a serious deal a blow to the economy and its citizens”.

Channel 12 News reported on Monday that Bank of Israel governor Amir Yaron is expected to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to express concerns about the potential impact, noting that the bank has provided the Treasury Department with a list of concerns of international rating agencies.

‘No high tech without democracy. Even without ChatGPT, we know you’re wrong’ and ‘No freedom, no high tech.’ Tech workers protest overhaul of the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meanwhile, the head of the Association of Jurists, Yitzhak Gordon, sent a letter to Levin on Tuesday, warning that the changes to the status of government legal advisers that the government plans to implement will lead to their current form to strike actions by employees of the legal bureaucracy.

Part of the proposed overhaul of the justice system would involve changing the position of Legal Adviser to the Department of Government from a professional appointment under the auspices of the Justice Department to a political appointment by the incumbent minister.

The proposals will also change legal counsel’s advice from binding to merely recommended, as well as other changes related to the tenure and terms of government legal counsel and other legal personnel.

“These changes are expected to cause serious harm to public legal personnel and to their rights, incomes, jobs, professional futures and job security,” Gordon wrote.

He said these “dramatic changes” were made “without good faith” and “in a manner that is unacceptable in industrial relations in general and in public services in particular, through unilateral, firm and aggressive steps without negotiating with workers’ representatives ,” added Gordon.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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