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A big Israeli shopping centre chain said it would close its sites in the coming days as resistance mounts to the hardline government’s plans to resume work on a bitterly disputed judicial overhaul.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s alliance with far right and ultra-religious parties put the overhaul, which would weaken the powers of Israel’s top court, on ice in March after weeks of mass protests escalated into a strike that briefly brought parts of the Israeli economy to a standstill.
But after three months of compromise negotiations ended without a deal, the government has returned to the project. Parliament is due to vote on Monday on one of its key elements, which would stop the Supreme Court using the standard of “reasonableness” to strike down government decisions.
Big Shopping Centres, which operates 24 sites around Israel, said if the bill passed the first of three required readings in parliament on Monday, it would regard this as “another step towards dictatorship” and would close its malls on Tuesday as part of a broader day of protest being organised by opponents of the judicial overhaul.
“Legislation such as this will represent a critical blow to business and economic certainty in Israel, and will directly and immediately endanger our existence as a leading company in Israel,” the company said in a statement.
“When the country is shaking and being torn apart from within, we cannot sit on the fence, and if needed, and as the legislation and the plundering of the public purse that we finance progress, we will escalate our measures.”
The announcement drew an angry riposte from Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israel’s ultranationalist national security minister, who said he would boycott the shopping mall chain, and insisted that the legislation would be advanced on Monday as planned.
“Business owners who interfere politically and boycott half the people deserve condemnation from all shades of the political spectrum,” he wrote on Twitter.
A group of companies and start-ups from Israel’s crucial high-tech industry including the software group Wix, which have been vocal opponents of the judicial overhaul, said they would channel their purchasing to Big’s shopping centres in solidarity.
Government officials argue the overhaul is needed to rein in the powers of a judiciary that they claim has used powers it was never formally granted to pursue a partisan leftwing agenda.
But critics, including former security and central bank chiefs, and numerous tech and banking executives, see the proposals as a politically motivated power grab that will weaken a key check on the government, pave the way for the evisceration of minority rights and damage the economy.
The controversy over the government’s plans has sparked the biggest wave of protests in Israel’s history, with hundreds of thousands of people taking to the streets in weekly protests since the overhaul was announced in January.
The latest protest against the plans on Saturday night drew more than 150,000 people in Tel Aviv, Israel’s liberal beachside metropolis, as well thousands more in other cities around the country.
Protest organisers said disruptions would be held around the country on Tuesday, including at the Ben Gurion international airport. The Histadrut union, which played a key role in March’s general strike, has yet to indicate if it will join the protest.