Some 1,000 Protest in Dimona Against Job Losses at Israel Chemicals Plant

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces task force to examine unemployment in the south, headed by Arye Dery.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

About 1,000 people demonstrated at the entrance to the southern city of Dimona yesterday, protesting a decision by Israel Chemicals (ICL) to fire hundreds of workers.

The demonstrators, who were also protesting the general employment situation in the Negev region, blocked traffic on Route 25 for a while, preventing travel to Be’er Sheva and the Dead Sea. But the road was reopened before noon.

Municipal services in Dimona, Arad and Yeruham were shut yesterday in solidarity. In Dimona, junior-high and high schools were closed as well.

Dimona Mayor Benny Biton said he supported the protest despite being a member of the ruling Likud party. “The residents are more important than the parties,” he declared. “We don’t want to send Dimona 20 years backward. This city is a symbol. It’s united, and its goal is to bolster the [ICL] unions” in their fight against the layoffs.

Later, Biton met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and they agreed that the government would set up a task force on the issue of unemployment in the south. It will be headed by the new Economy Minister Arye Dery.

Dery subsequently met with Negev mayors and said he hoped the issue of ICL’s layoffs would be solved in the next two days. “We have no magic solutions, but we have a plan and we’ll make every effort,” he promised.

On Saturday night, a meeting between ICL’s management and representatives of the Histadrut labor federation ended without a result.

Armond Lancry, who chairs the workers committee at ICL subsidiary Dead Sea Works, accused owner Idan Ofer of moving “knowledge, technology and entire divisions” out of the country, “while firing Israeli workers.”

“State assets are being smuggled away, and you’re keeping mum,” he declared at yesterday’s demonstration, addressing Netanyahu. “Natural resources are being moved abroad in huge quantities to line Idan Ofer’s pockets. The Dead Sea is in danger.

“For decades, I’ve been a member of the Likud Central Committee and chairman of the party’s Dimona branch,” added Lancry. “But it’s hard for me to support a party that doesn’t see the Negev as part of the State of Israel.”

Though Biton insisted the demonstration wasn’t political, about 20 Knesset members participated, mainly from the opposition. The only Likud MK present, Miki Zohar, was booed when he addressed the crowd.

“Likud won the support of more than 40 percent of the Negev and we’ll never forget this,” Zohar pledged. “We’ll fight in the Knesset and everywhere, and ask only one thing – that when the problem is ultimately solved, you don’t forget who solved it.”

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Zionist Union) also addressed the demonstrators. “I know many of you didn’t vote for me,” he said. “But I’m the opposition leader, and I intend to fight for you and with you, for the sake of social justice and a life of dignity.”

MK Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) added, “It’s your right to vote Likud, but don’t let them alone, don’t give up, blow up their meetings, make them keep their promises.”

Michael Edry, a Dead Sea Works employee for the last 25 years, said he was disappointed at the management of the ICL workers’ strike, which has already gone on for three months. “We were optimistic at the start, but now, there’s great depression,” he said. “We don’t really see where it will end.”

Jonathan Lis contributed to this report