Says Israel's funding PM family's clothes, as Iran buys jets

Ex-chief of atomic commission warns overhaul will undercut fight against Iran

In letter to Netanyahu, Zeev Snir notes judicial shakeup was not a key goal that PM set for government, rails at branding of protesters as ‘leftists, anarchists and terrorists’

Technicians work at the Iranian Arak heavy water reactor, 150 miles southwest of the capital Tehran, on December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)
Technicians work at the Iranian Arak heavy water reactor, 150 miles southwest of the capital Tehran, on December 23, 2019. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

A former head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission on Sunday warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against plowing forward with his government’s planned overhaul of the judicial system, suggesting the deep internal divides over the contentious measures could leave the country exposed to attack.

Zeev Snir, a Netanyahu appointee who led the atomic commission in 2015-2022, sent a letter to the premier noting the four principal goals Netanyahu had set out for his government at its first cabinet meeting in December: preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear arms; restoring “security and governance” in Israel; addressing the high cost of living and housing prices; and normalizing diplomatic ties with additional states following the US-backed Abraham Accords in 2020.

“The judicial reform was not even mentioned,” Snir wrote, according to a copy of the letter published by the Ynet news site.

He added that focusing on advancing the far-reaching changes to the judiciary would undercut Netanyahu’s ability to obtain the key aims he laid out, particularly in terms of countering Iran.

“Strategic competition with Iran requires enlisting all of the State of Israel’s resources and cultivating its power militarily, economically, diplomatically and socially. Iran is strengthening its position and capabilities in terms of its nuclear [program], ties with Russia and China, dealing with sanctions, and more,” he said. “All this as the West, led by the US, is busy with competing with China, the war in Europe, the fight with Russia and the energy crisis.”

Snir railed at the government for focusing on bills aimed at helping Netanyahu and his ally Aryeh Deri, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, with their legal troubles, as well as state funding for the premier’s family residences and clothing, as Iran seeks to purchase fighter jets from Russia.

“The developments in the State of Israel due to the intense preoccupation with the judicial reform harms our ability to cope with Iran and additional challenges in the short, medium and long term,” he said, arguing that Israeli resilience was already eroding and warning of damage to the country’s image, deterrent power, economy and foreign relations.

Former Israel Atomic Energy Commission director Ze’ev Snir. (Wikipedia CC BY/IAEA image bank)

The former atomic energy chief then laid into Netanyahu and his right-religious coalition for branding protesters as “leftists, anarchists and terrorists.”

“Labeling… will not advance or solve and problem. The leadership must soberly and bravely look at the reality, take responsibility and contend with it, not search for those to blame and make excuses,” Snir said.

He went on to bash coalition figures for their rhetoric denouncing reserve soldiers opposed to the judicial shakeup, saying that he stopped volunteering at a defense contractor as a result.

“There is no ‘two sides’ here and there’s no meaning of ‘dialogue’: There’s an elected government and you head it,” Snir said. “Without a substantial change, we will very quickly reach places that must not be reached and from which there is no return.”

Turning to the proposed changes themselves, Snir warned they would undermine the balance of powers between the branches of government, leaving the ruling majority “without any restraints.”

“I remind everyone that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” he said, slamming the coalition for its “haughtiness” and “excessive self-confidence.”

“The Iranians and our enemies are looking with amazement at what is happening here. They have no use for a nuclear weapon to destroy us. All they need to do is wait and see how we harm ourselves. It’s clear to me that by writing this letter, I have automatically tuned into an ‘enemy of the people’ and a ‘leftist.’ I am not,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with then-Minister of the Interior and Health Aryeh Deri (left) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) during the swearing in ceremony of the new government, at the Knesset, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The letter came after Snir gave a fiery interview to Ynet in which he called on Netanyahu to halt the overhaul and warned of Iran’s progress toward producing a nuclear weapon.

With the comments, Snir joined an extensive list of former senior officials appointed by Netanyahu who have warned of security, economic and diplomatic fallout from the overhaul.

The government’s plan, as it stands, will allow the Knesset to override court decisions with the barest majority, preemptively shield laws from judicial oversight altogether, and put the selection of all judges in the hands of coalition politicians.

Opponents argue it will drastically weaken Israel’s democratic character, remove a key element of its checks and balances and leave minorities unprotected. Supporters call it a much-needed reform to rein in an over-activist court.

A number of polls have indicated the legislation is broadly unpopular with the public. However, a survey indicated Friday that Israelis are split on whether or not the country’s security apparatus should follow rulings by the High Court of Justice or government decisions in the event of a constitutional crisis.

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