THE DEAD SEA WORKS in Sdom, the world’s fourth largest producer and supplier of potash products, is owned by Israel Chemicals Ltd.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Thousands of Dimona residents took to the streets of the Negev town on Sunday in protest of rising unemployment in Israel’s underdeveloped cities, which was exacerbated by recent layoffs announced by Israel Chemicals, one of the country’s largest fertilizer and metal manufacturers.
Demonstrators have blocked traffic on Route 25 in both directions.
The protest was attended by prominent figures from the opposition, including Labor Party MK Shelly Yachimovich and Yisrael Beytenu MKs Sopha Landver and Sharon Gal.
The head of Dead Sea Factories’ workers union, Armond Lancry, told the protesters that he was renouncing his membership in the ruling Likud Party to protest what he felt was the government’s failure to prevent job losses.
“Mr. Prime Minister, perhaps I will say this in words that you will understand,” he said. “Our natural resources are moving in droves abroad, with the approval of the parties in the coalition.”
Lancry’s statement was a play on words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Election Day rally cry for voters to head to the booths in the face of “Arabs coming out to vote in droves.”
“The Dead Sea is in danger,” he said. “I’ve been a Likud central committee member for decades. It’s hard for me to support a party that doesn’t see the Negev as part of the State of Israel. That is why I plan on leaving the Likud.”
“Israel Chemicals is the backbone of the Negev economy,” the company said in response. “It invests NIS 1.5 billion every year - more than any other company in Israel. It is the largest employer in the Negev, providing a livelihood to 30,000 families either directly or indirectly, half of those families from Dimona.”
“Israel Chemicals is winding down its negotiations with the Histadrut labor federation with the goal of instituting a streamlining program that is necessary and will guarantee the factories’ viability for years to come. The negotiations are being held in good faith by both sides who wish to come to an agreement in the coming days.”
One Likud lawmaker who did attend the rally, Miki Zohar, was jeered when he tried to reassure the protesters that Netanyahu was in their corner.
Netanyahu is due to meet on Sunday with Dimona Mayor Benny Biton in an effort to defuse the crisis.
Biton said that he was invited to meet the premier in Jerusalem. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon will also take part in the meeting, Biton said.