CEOs, senior execs call for dialogue on government’s judicial makeover plans

Over 50 senior businesspeople warn lack of dialogue on proposed changes will widen rifts, have grave implications for Israel’s economy

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 4, 2023. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)
Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, February 4, 2023. (AP/Maya Alleruzzo)

Joining a wave of opposition from top professionals, more than 50 chairpersons and heads of leading consumer chains sent a letter Sunday to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other leaders warning about the economic implications of the government’s planned far-reaching judicial shakeup, and calling for the government to engage in dialogue with its opponents.

In the letter sent to Netanyahu, President Isaac Herzog, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid, the group of senior executives and businesspeople expressed their concern that the “emerging legal revolution, as it is moving forward, is widening division among the people and may lead to serious damage to the Israeli economy.

“As our public leaders, you have the ability to reach a compromise and there is no doubt that today, more than ever, compromise is called for,” the letter read.

Among the signatories of the letter were heads of fashion, food and electrical appliance chains, cinemas and shopping centers.

“We are following with great concern the developments in the public sphere and the growing rifts between the various parts of the nation,” the letter said. “We are proud Israelis, ‘one human tapestry’ that voted for all the parties in Israel.”

“We, among the backbones of the Israeli economy, respect voters’ decision of course, while at the same time believing that in a democratic country we must listen to each other,” it continued.

In the letter, the group of senior businesspeople acknowledged that Israel’s judiciary was not “perfect” and expressed confidence that it could be corrected.

“Show leadership, start a dialogue, and ensure that the amendments carried out will be done in broad agreement, in order to prevent a rift in the people,” they urged.

The signatories emphasized that they represent an apolitical group that includes voters from all different parties. But they warned that “the consequences of the lack of dialogue could be fateful for our future in general, and for the future of the Israeli economy in particular.”

In an interview with CNN last week, Netanyahu said that he was ready to “hear counter offers” to his contentious plan to radically overhaul the judiciary and defended the proposed legal shake-up as necessary to counter what he called “extreme judicial activism.”

The Netanyahu coalition’s proposals, as presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

The proposals have come under severe criticism across the business sector in Israel with tech professionals, money managers and financial institutions warning of its economic consequences, including an outflow of funds and a decline in investments from abroad.

Tens of thousands of Israelis went to the streets on Saturday for the fifth week in a row to protest the government’s push. Along with the main protests in Tel Aviv, smaller demonstrations were held in Jerusalem, Haifa and multiple other cities.

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