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Circles in the tourism and hotel industry are pressing the Histadrut labor federation to delay the decision on a strike next week, saying the planned strike would have a detrimental affect on the annual incoming surge of Christmas holiday tourism.

"Tourism to Israel has still not recovered from the blow dealt to the industry by the war last summer" he said, adding that "a strike at Ben-Gurion Airport now would inflict heavy damages and undo extensive efforts to increase tourism, in particular the renewal of pilgrim group visits."

The pressure is likely to affect the Histadrut's decision on the timing of the strike, and the question of whether to include Israel's airway links. The strike developed in response to unpaid wages in some local authorities, religious councils and firefighting services. The National Labor Tribunal, presided over by Judge Steven Adler, has so far refrained from issuing an injunction against the planned strike.

Histadrut chair Ofer Eini said the labor federation considers itself free to order the strike, since no solution on the issue has been reached.

According to a report prepared by the head of the Histadrut's religious council employees desk, Shlomo Stern, the problem of withheld wages in religious councils is no less critical than in local councils; he cited 19 councils throughout the country. The bank accounts of nearly all of these councils have been seized.

Former treasury wages director Yuval Rachlevsky commented yesterday, saying that "when public funds are in question, the treasury must take into consideration that along with employees, there are pensioners, to whom the state owes NIS 600 billion."

He added: "There are local authorities whose sole reason for existence is political. Many are operated inefficiently. This is the cause of the current crisis, so the first step toward a solution is to reduce the number of local authorities and religious councils."