Israel’s political crisis escalated into uncharted territory Monday as the country’s largest trade union announced a “historic” strike shutting down transportation, universities, restaurants and retailers in protest against Prime Minister’s Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned judicial overhaul.
Israel’s Histadrut trade union which coordinated the strike said that some government ministries, the country’s three biggest cities, banks, ports and many other companies and agencies were on strike on Monday and added that essential services such as hospitals and firefighters were to operate on a Saturday schedule.
All takeoffs from Israel’s main airport, Ben Gurion Tel Aviv, were halted for several hours because of the strike. Workers at the country’s largest port in Haifa stopped working, some universities were shuttered and some of the country’s best-known retailers, including McDonald’s and the shopping mall chain Azrieli Group, announced closures.
Several Israeli embassies including the ones in Washington DC, London and Paris, were closed on Monday after their workers and some diplomats joined the strike.
Massive crowds filled the streets of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv late Sunday night after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister over his opposition to a planned judicial overhaul.
Massive spontaneous protests took over the Israeli city of Tel Aviv late Sunday night in response to the Gallant news, with people waving Israeli flags and chanting “democracy.” Protesters lit several fires on the main highway in the city and blocked number of streets and bridges, including the Ayalon Highway.
Despite reports in Israeli media that Netanyahu would speak on Monday, his only comments since he fired Gallant came in a short tweet in which he urged protesters to “behave responsibly.”
“I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently. We are brotherly people,” he said on Twitter.
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have been protesting for months against the planned judicial changes which would give the governing parties more control over Israel’s judiciary.
Israel’s former Prime Minister Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to reverse the decision to fire Gallant, calling the move a “new low.” He wrote on Twitter that Netanyahu might be able to fire the minister but “cannot fire the people of Israel who are standing up to the insanity of the coalition.”