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Israeli tech sector has big problem with Netanyahu’s judicial reform

It is not only political activists who are demonstrating against the judicial overhaul pushed by the Netanyahu government — high-tech companies and people have also joined the protest movement.
High-tech company workers block a road and hold signs as they strike for an hour to protest the Israeli government's controversial plans to overhaul the judicial system, Tel Aviv, Israel, Jan. 24, 2023.

Israeli high-tech employees demonstrated on Tuesday against the Netanyahu government's planned judicial overhaul, in different locations across the country.

A demonstration will also take place on Tuesday in Silicone Valley, in California organized by Israeli high-tech individuals and entities in the area. 

Tuesday's demonstration followed an announcement last week by High-tech giant Papaya Global, that it has decided to take all the company’s money out of Israel, over the judicial reform.

Papaya Global CEO Eynat Guez said on Twitter last Thursday that the move was adopted in response to the prime minister's reform plans.

“Statements by Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu that he is determined to pass reforms would be harmful to Israel’s democracy and economy,” wrote Guez.

Later in the day, Israeli startup Disruptive Technologies Venture Capital also decided to withdraw all its funds from Israel.

The two announcements echoed fears expressed in recent weeks by many Israeli high-tech people against the judicial reform advanced by the Netanyahu government. More so, these sentiments and announcements explain a new phenomenon in Israel — that of the high-tech people protest.

Israeli center and left-wing groups and organizations dedicated to democracy have been demonstrating against the Netanyahu judicial reform since it was first announced, shortly after the establishment of the new government. But it was only last week that politically unaffiliated high-tech people have launched demonstrations of their own, with the same purpose: to stop the reform.

Last Tuesday, hundreds of employees in established high-tech industries and startups joined the protest. They held an hourlong strike and took to the streets to protest at a number of locations. In Tel Aviv, they even blocked a major road to traffic. The police showed up and called on them to break up the demonstration and open the road. It was a rare spectacle in the world of Israeli high tech.

Among the companies that announced earlier in the week that they would be joining the protests and allow their staff to join the demonstrations was the mobile content creator company Piggy. Its cofounder and CEO Shaul Olmert even addressed the crowd. “I am excited and proud to see all our partners in this struggle, who are unwilling to give up on their country,” he wrote on Twitter on the day of the protest.

Olmert talked to Al-Monitor about his decision to voice his views. “These days it is important for all of us to step out of our comfort zones. We must not avoid stating our opinions. The success of the State of Israel is dependent on the existence of stable and balanced institutions of government. If these get shook up, Israeli society could lose everything we fought for and achieved,” he said.

Israel’s high-tech industry is considered the engine of the Israeli economy. According to the 2021 Innovation Report, high tech accounts for 43% of Israeli exports, while high-tech employees, who make up 10% of all wage earners in Israel, account for 60% of income tax collected from wage earners, and 25% of all income tax collected in the country. These are certainly numbers that cannot be ignored. The fact that the majority of high-tech people demonstrating are not political activists actually sends an even stronger message to the government — that the issue of the judicial reform is beyond ideology differences, but touches on Israeli core values and endangers Israel’s economy and lifestyle.

Gad Ravid, a high-tech entrepreneur and one of the leaders of the high-tech protests, spoke with Al-Monitor about the reasons behind the unusual movement. "High-tech staff are nervous about the loss of individual liberties, discrimination against minorities and inequality. The judicial system is the last defense of freedom. We are telling the members of this government to stop before they crash the economy and democracy too. We will not stop our struggle until the sword dangling over the head of democracy is lifted," he noted.

The growing high-tech movement is expected to join the two mass rallies set to take place in the center of Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

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