Business leaders warn Likud MKs: Judicial overhaul already harming economy

Industry heads meet with members of Netanyahu’s party, urge halt to legislation until compromise reached; Bitan: Overhaul must stop for talks within party

'Without democracy, there is no high tech,' 'Even without ChatGPT, we know that you are wrong' and 'No freedom, no high-tech' -- tech workers protest judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
'Without democracy, there is no high tech,' 'Even without ChatGPT, we know that you are wrong' and 'No freedom, no high-tech' -- tech workers protest judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2023 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Members of a group comprising dozens of industry leaders met Saturday night with four lawmakers from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party to warn them that economic damage from the government’s intended drastic overhaul of the judiciary was already being felt.

At the Tel Aviv meeting with members of the so-called Business Forum were MKs David Bitan, Hanoch Milwidsky, Eli Dellal, and Shalom Danino. The forum is led by Fox fashion group owner Harel Wiesel.

At the gathering, forum members explained that economic damage from the judicial overhaul has already begun, as predicted by many officials, experts, and critics of the plan.

The group also expressed their concerns about a widening public divide over the legislation, according to Hebrew media reports Sunday.

The lawmakers were reportedly attentive to their remarks.

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the Supreme Court and give the government control over the appointment of judges. It says the plan is a long-overdue measure to curb what it sees as outsize influence by unelected judges.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a debate and a vote in the Knesset plenum, March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority. They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past two months to protest the sweeping overhaul.

Business leaders, Nobel-winning economists, and prominent security officials have spoken out against it, military reservists have threatened to stop reporting for duty, and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the US, have urged Netanyahu to slow down. Efforts by President Isaac Herzog to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.

A day later, Bitan, chair of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, on Sunday told Radio 103FM he thinks it is time for the prime minister “to order that the legislation be stopped.”

Netanyahu, he said, has not halted the legislative drive so far “because he doesn’t want the government to fall.” He claimed the prime minister was trying to reach a compromise with the opposition.

Bitan said the plan, key parts of which are scheduled for a Knesset vote this week, should be halted for a specified amount of time “in order that it be possible to talk — inside and outside of Likud.”

He criticized Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who is spearheading the overhaul, for not discussing the matter enough with members of his own party and urged him to “sit with us” and not just with coalition party leaders.

David Bitan, chairman of the Knesset Economic Committee heads a committee hearing, March 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bitan said Likud MKs will back the reform no matter what, but “we expect that he [Levin] will also talk with us and take our opinion into consideration.”

The Business Forum 40 includes the heads of the biggest companies and banks in the country. Last week, its representatives met with Herzog, and in recent weeks they have held talks with the ministers of finance, economy, and education, as well as opposition party leaders Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid and Benny Gantz of National Union.

Coalition party leaders were set to meet Sunday evening for discussions on softening the planned judiciary changes, but opposition lawmakers dismissed the event as “a joke.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Most Popular
read more: