Skip to main content

General strike in Israel, Netanyahu under pressure to freeze judicial overhaul

Spontaneous rallies have been taking place across Israel since Sunday night, including some violent confrontations with police, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant.
Protesters clash with the police during a rally against the Israeli government's judicial reform in Tel Aviv, Israel on March 27, 2023. - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on March 26, 2023 fired Defence Minister Yoav Galant a day after he broke ranks, citing security concerns in calling for a pause to the government's controversial judicial reforms. On a day when 200,000 people took to the streets of Tel Aviv to protest the reforms, Galant -- who had been a staunch Netanyahu ally -- on Saturday sai

Israel’s largest labor union announced on Monday a general strike over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul, as flights were disrupted, universities and shopping malls closed. The move that cripples a large part of the Israeli economy comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly expected to announce Monday afternoon or evening the suspension of the legislative process of the controversial plan. 

Israel's public broadcaster KAN, Ynet news and other Israeli outlets reported Monday morning that Netanyahu is considering the announcement to freeze the plan, and made that clear during a meeting with his cabinet ministers. The judicial overhaul plan has drawn Israel into a wave of unprecedented protests since December. The plan would undermine the power of the High Court and give the government the power to appoint judges. 

A majority of public sectors have gone on strike on Monday. Hospitals are operating on emergency mode, receiving only urgent cases. Most municipal services are striking, though the municipality of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak said it will work normally.

The banks are waiting for authorization from the banking authority to join the strike. Israeli missions abroad are also striking, apart from security personal. Israel's electricity company is striking, offering minimal service. Public transportation is not included in the call of the union workers for a strike, to enable protesters to easily reach all demonstration locations. 

Netanyahu may back down

Under pressure, Netanyahu is expected to pause the legislative plan. No official announcement has been released so far, but Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the main sponsor of the judicial overhaul, was quoted as saying he will support any decision the prime minister makes, and does not intend to resign in case the overhaul is postponed. National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir has hinted he might resign from his position if the overhaul is halted, continuing to support the government from the outside. 

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on Monday morning on the government to halt the legislative process of the judicial overhaul.

His call came only a few hours after Netanyahu fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his call to halt the legislation, and on the backdrop of unprecedented demonstrations and rallies across the country against the judicial overhaul. Clearly, the firing of Gallant raised public anger to new heights. More demonstrations are planned for Monday afternoon.

Referring to the mass demonstrations that took place after Netanyahu’s announcement on Gallant, Herzog called on the government to stop the legislation. "Deep anxiety is engulfing the people. The security, the economy, the society — everything is threatened. The eyes of all the people of Israel are turned to you. For the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility, I am calling on you to stop the legislation immediately. I turn to all the party leaders in the Knesset, coalition and opposition as one, put the citizens of the nation above all else and behave responsibly and bravely without further delay," he said in a statement.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid called on Netanyahu to walk back the firing of Gallant and halt the judicial overhaul. “Defense Minister Gallant was fired for one reason only — he was telling the truth. He did not threaten, he did not issue an ultimatum; he warned against the collapse of the people’s army in the face of a government that is trying to dismiss reality,” said Lapid at the weekly meeting of his Yesh Atid Knesset faction on Monday morning.

Several heads of local councils announced they will go on hunger strike until the judicial overhaul is suspended.

Demonstrators started gathering at different key points at 10 p.m. local time on Sunday, two hours after Netanyahu’s announcement. Tens of thousands of people blocked the Tel Aviv Ayalon highway throughout the night. After five hours of demonstrations the police used water cannons to disperse the protesters. The demonstrators tried stopping the police by burning tires, erecting barriers and throwing stones. Tens of thousands of people gathered also in front of the Jerusalem residence of Netanyahu, in front of the Knesset in Jerusalem and in many other cities. Protesters are calling not only to cancel Netanyahu’s legislative reform, but also for the removal of Netanyahu from office.

The chairman of Israel’s most powerful workers union Histadrut, Arnon Bar-David, convened a press conference on Monday morning, calling on all employers and employees to join the protest movement. He called for staging a general strike across the country. Bar-David said that he had worked diligently to find a compromise, but the firing of Gallant crossed all red lines.

Shortly after the Histadrut press conference, the head of the Workers Union at Ben Gurion Airport announced it will stop all departures immediately; 30,000 people were expected to fly out of Ben Gurion Airport on Monday.   

Members of Netanyahu’s legal team, defending him in his corruption trial, said they will stop representing him if the judicial overhaul goes through.

Netanyahu himself spent the night consulting with his coalition partners at the Knesset. With the firing of Gallant and the ensuing mass demonstrations, several coalition leaders said they will support Netanyahu if he decides to halt the legislative process. These included Economy and Trade Minister Nir Barkat, Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli, Culture and Sports Minister Mickey Zohar and the ultra-Orthodox Shas party. Netanyahu might address Israelis in the coming hours.

Leaders of Israel's security agencies expressed their concerns on the firing of Gallant in the midst of the month of Ramadan, considered an especially volatile period in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett told Channel 12 in a live phone call Sunday night that the judicial overhaul must be suspended. “Israel is in greater danger than at any time since the [1973] Yom Kippur war — security danger, diplomatic danger, economic danger, in danger of falling apart,” he said.

The White House also expressed its concern Sunday night over developments in Israel. A statement issued by White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said the Biden administration "strongly urges" a compromise. "We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens," read the statement.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in