Dozens of psychiatrists warn of mental health dangers from judicial overhaul ‘trauma’

In letter to Netanyahu and Herzog, top specialists say sooner or later everyone in the country will feel ‘irreversible damage’ from impact of controversial changes

Israeli police officers remove demonstrators blocking a highway during protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the Israel's judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 18, 2023. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)
Israeli police officers remove demonstrators blocking a highway during protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the Israel's judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 18, 2023. (Ohad Zwigenberg/AP)

Dozens of top psychiatrists have warned of mental health dangers that could accompany the government’s proposed drastic overhaul of the judiciary, saying it will have a broad, lingering impact for years.

The warning came in a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is leading a blitz to legislate the plans, and President Isaac Herzog who has urged a slowdown and a compromise with those who oppose them, Channel 12 reported.

It was signed by Zvi Fishel, the former chair of the Israel Psychiatric Association, and dozens of other leading experts in the field who said they too have joined mass demonstrations against the proposed changes.

“There is no person in the country who can remain indifferent to such a regime earthquake,” they wrote. “Some will react sooner and some later, but the mental structure of everyone living in the country will undergo a shock.”

The said outcome will be manifested in a variety of ways, the experts said.

“The internalized reactions will cause people to get up and leave for other countries and others will lock themselves in their houses and develop reactions of anxiety and depression,” they predicted. “The extroverted reactions that are more visible include rage and violence among various circles who feel that everything is now allowed with the backing of the government — including going wild and hurting other people.”

Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to overhaul the Israel’s judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 18, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The letter further warned that “the resulting and increasing trauma will accompany us for many years to come and will affect future generations as well — and the damage will be irreversible.”

To not identify the consequences of such a dramatic regime change on people’s lives is irresponsible and unforgivable they charged, according to the report. The letter further claimed, without evidence, that members of the security forces were carrying out acts of violence against demonstrators due to their own internal chaos and confusion.

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court and give them control over the appointment of the nation’s judges.

They say the plan is a long-overdue measure to curb what they see as outsize influence by unelected judges. 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.

High-tech 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. Repeated efforts by Herzog to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.

On Saturday night, hundreds of thousands of Israelis participated in demonstrations nationwide against the judicial plan.

Protest organizers vowed to escalate demonstrations if the coalition doesn’t halt its legislative proposals, which lawmakers are due to advance next week, declaring this coming Thursday a “national day of paralysis.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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