17 top law firms warn judicial overhaul will harm Israel’s democracy, image, economy

Petitioners, who say they represent views from across political spectrum, predict flight of foreign investments, warn that Israel’s OECD membership may be jeopardized

Illustrative: The High Court of Justice convenes in Jerusalem to discuss the potential evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Homesh, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: The High Court of Justice convenes in Jerusalem to discuss the potential evacuation of the West Bank outpost of Homesh, January 2, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the latest public petition lambasting the new government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary, 17 of Israel’s leading law firms warned Thursday that the proposed reforms won’t fix the system and instead will harm Israel’s reputation and its economy.

“We … want to warn against harming the resilience and independence of the justice system and the system of checks and balances at the basis of the democratic regime we are so proud of, alongside the State of Israel being a Jewish state,” the lawyers wrote.

The firms charged that it was “not an issue of right or left,” adding that collectively, they employ some 3,500 legal staff “from all across the political spectrum.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s reforms would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government total control over judicial appointments; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.

The opposition and legal establishment have blasted the reforms as posing a severe danger to democratic rights, while the government and proponents of reforms have hailed them as a tool to ensure the will of the majority is upheld. Some 100,000 Israelis protested against the judicial plans last weekend and similar mass demonstrations are planned for this coming Saturday as well.

Though acknowledging issues in the justice system, the lawyers said on Thursday that the reforms proposed by Levin are “not the way” to solve them, and “threaten to inflict a severe wound on the basic democratic principle of the separation of powers.”

The petitioners warned of “a real fear for Israel’s status as an international business center, foreign investments in Israel may decrease dramatically, foreign entities will seek to withdraw their money, Israel’s credit rating will drop, and even our position in the OECD may be in jeopardy.”

The firms called on the prime minister and justice minister to form a broad public discussion and consult with legal experts to draft reforms that ensure the independence of the judiciary.

Earlier Thursday, Dov Kotler, CEO of Israel’s largest bank, Bank Hapoalim, published a Facebook post against the plan, saying that while he agrees changes are needed, he is in favor of “an evolution, not a revolution.”

Kotler wrote he takes pride in the diversity of the bank’s staff, appearing to take a stand against the government’s plan to alter the anti-discrimination law to allow businesses to discriminate based on religious belief. Many Israeli companies have spoken out, saying they won’t discriminate or work with a business that does so.

Also on Thursday, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan mentioned the government’s controversial plans for the judiciary during his one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

A US official familiar with the matter told Axios there was little reason to assume Sullivan “grilled” Netanyahu on the issue or made demands that he rethink the plan.

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