Cites slogan: 'Absolute power corrupts absolutely'

Economist at think tank behind overhaul now warns of cost, unlimited government power

Michael Sarel of Kohelet Economic Forum says that damage to Israel’s liberal democracy will bring economic harm, backs finding a compromise on current proposal

File: Michael Sarel, head of the Kohelet Economic Forum, April 10, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
File: Michael Sarel, head of the Kohelet Economic Forum, April 10, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The top economist at a conservative think tank that has been deeply involved in the government’s controversial push to overhaul the country’s judiciary warned Wednesday that the current proposal could cause severe damage to the economy.

He also warned that the proposals as currently being advanced give unlimited power to the government, with the potential for dangerous abuse.

Michael Sarel, head of the Kohelet Economic Forum, penned an opinion that “if the reform paves the way for severe damage to liberal democracy, there will also be severe damage to the economy in the medium term.”

He predicted the economic damage would precede any harm to the country’s democracy.

It was the latest warning from economists, bankers, the tech sector, jurists, and security personnel about the dire consequences of the overhaul for Israel’s democracy, international status, and internal unity, this time coming from those behind the push.

Sarel said he believes most of those who support the judicial changes nonetheless want to preserve the country as a liberal democracy.

Those who back the planned legislation “are right in their criticism of the flaws in the system of checks and balances in the current regime in Israel,” he wrote.

Israelis protest the government’s planned judicial overhaul outside the home of President Isaac Herzog in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“They are also right in placing the main blame for these flaws in the judicial activism that has developed in Israel in recent decades,” he added.

But they are “wrong by presenting this reform as a correction that will restore the proper balances and brakes and ensure the separation of government authorities,” he assessed.

The current proposed changes give the government unlimited power, and allow it to “use that power in order to increase the chances of its political survival,” he said.

“Not by chance did the slogan ‘power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely’ become so accepted in political philosophy and political science,” Sarel noted.

Supporters of the changes “will want to improve the package of measures that was presented, so that the reform will correct the serious flaws in the system of checks and balances in the current regime in Israel — without significant exposure to future damage to the nature of the regime.”

“It is certainly possible to improve the proposed reform in this spirit, either with a broad agreement in the Knesset or unilaterally by the coalition,” Sarel wrote.

A number of companies have already said they will pull their finances from the country because of the coming legislation that the government is blitzing through the Knesset.

Israeli tech unicorn Riskified said Wednesday that they would be transferring $500 million dollars out of the country and offering a limited number of relocation packages to interested staff members.

The Riskified announcement came a day after the Moody’s rating agency said the government’s proposals could weaken the country’s institutional strength and negatively affect its economic outlook.

The judicial overhaul will enable the government to protect laws from being struck down by the High Court, and also give it control of the panel that selects the court’s judges.

Last month, the head of the Kohelet Policy Forum called the so-called override clause of the High Court a “stupid idea” during a closed meeting with young immigrants in Tel Aviv, the Haaretz daily reported at the time.

Kohelet researchers played key roles in developing many of the new government’s policies regarding the judiciary, and the Jerusalem-based forum even made an English-language video in an effort to sell the radical reforms to skeptical English speakers.

Critics say the proposed overhaul will weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances, and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters say it is a much-needed reform to rein in an activist court. There have been escalating opposition protests against the reform.

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