In petition, leading academics warn judicial shakeup will harm Israel’s security

Hebrew University professor behind letter with over 240 signatories says Nobel Prize-winning French economist who couldn’t sign asked Macron to protest overhaul to Netanyahu

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Over 240 leading academics from Israel and abroad have signed a petition warning that the government’s plans to radically reshape the judiciary will impact the country’s security.

The academics, who the Ynet news site reported Tuesday include American Nobel Prize-winning economists Vernon Smith and Roger Myerson, say that while other petitions against the plans have highlighted the expected harm to civil rights and democracy, they also see a threat to Israel’s security.

“Our petition adds an additional concern, building on our areas of expertise: the initiative threatens Israel’s national security and will weaken its ability to defend itself,” says the petition, which was posted online last week.

It argues that Israel is stronger as a democracy, because democracies are richer and devote more funds to defense, and citizens are more willing to defend and sacrifice for a democracy.

“Threats made by democracies in conflicts that escalate are taken more seriously by adversaries than those made by autocrats, because they are backed by voters and democratic institutions,” it said, also noting that democracies make stronger alliances.

The petition added: “Israel is located in a highly hostile environment despite its improved relations with some Arab countries. But its relations with Palestinians, Syria, Lebanon, and Iran who back extremist factions, remain fraught. Weakening democratic institutions will play directly into the hands of Israel’s enemies and undermine support from democracies around the world.”

“Without that support,” it continued, “Israel’s very existence will be threatened.”

“We call upon the Israeli government to maintain the strength of its judiciary and other institutions that are essential for a strong democracy to thrive, especially in the current international context.”

The petition was written by Eyal Winter, an economics professor at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. According to Ynet, he was assisted by Steven Brams of New York University, Etel Solingen on University of California at Irvine, James Fearon of Stanford University and fellow Hebrew University professor Piki Ish Shalom.

Psychologist author Eyal Winter (Smadar Bergman)

Winter told the news site that Jean Tirole, a Nobel Prize-winning French economist, could not sign the letter but asked France’s President Emmanuel Macron to bring up the matter when he hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for talks in Paris last week.

During their meeting Friday, Macron told Netanyahu that if there are not changes to his government’s plans for radically remaking the judicial system, “Paris should conclude that Israel has emerged from a common conception of democracy,” an official with knowledge of the conversation confirmed to The Times of Israel.

Netanyahu’s coalition is pushing a dramatic judicial restructuring that would increase government control over the judiciary. Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost all power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and France’s President Emmanuel Macron (R) prior to their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris on February 2, 2023. (Ludovic Marin/AFP)

Netanyahu has pushed back against the criticism, saying that the proposals would strengthen democracy rather than hasten its end, and that his government was carrying out the will of the people.

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