The nationwide strike of Israel’s social workers entered its second week on Monday, July 13, a day after Shaul Meridor, Director of Budgets within the Finance Ministry, announced that the social workers’ demands to improve their working conditions are “irrelevant.” Meridor is a scion of a privileged right-wing, revisionist family, politically prominent from before the founding of the state. On the very same day, Meridor complained that the government’s plan to extend entitlement for unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of jobless and furloughed workers creates “negative incentives” to return to work. Talk about class warfare.
Inbal Hermoni, head of the Social Workers’ Union, said “We are being attacked with violence and cruelty… The entire welfare system has been neglected, dried up and abandoned,” and maintained that the current neo-liberal “government wants to decimate the social services and shut them down.” Therefore, the social workers have “no choice” but to strike.
The strike is expected to impact some 1.5 million recipients of social services provided by government ministries and local authorities. During the open-ended strike there will be no protection orders issued for children and youth in danger, no meetings of abortion committees, no respondents available to deal with inquiries from the elderly, no tending to domestic violence incidents, no allocation of minors to care homes, and no assessments of convicts or those under arrest.
Since the beginning of their strike on July 6, social workers have conducted daily protests all over Israel. A fortnight ago, during the mandatory two week “cooling off period” before the strike, a contingent marched from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and protested outside the Knesset and the Treasury, in conjunction with demonstrations held in Tel Aviv and other cities. At that time the far-right government refused to meet their demands which led to the strike on Monday of last week. The social workers’ union is threatening to continue its nationwide strike – its first since 2011 – until its demands are met.
Social workers gathered outside Finance Minister Israel Katz’s home on Thursday, Friday evening and Saturday morning, July 9-11, to protest the government’s refusal to negotiate with them. On Saturday evening, dozens of social workers gathered outside the Channel 12 television studios where Katz was due to give an interview related the government’s plan to contend with the country’s deepening social and economic crisis triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. As Katz entered the building, the protesters called out to him “slave workers,” a Hebrew play on words derived from that languages term for “social workers.” In another play on words, during the Meet the Press program he was being interviewed on, outside the social workers held up signs reading “Meet Reality.” After about half an hour outside the television studio, a special police unit arrived on the scene to break up the protest and detained 16 of the demonstrators under the charge of “disturbing the peace.”