A group of seven Nobel Prize-winning academics published an open letter on Sunday expressing their “deep concern” over a proposed judicial overhaul that they warned would negatively impact higher education in the country.
Addressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, the group labeled the proposal orchestrated by Justice Minister Yariv Levin as “regime changes,” adding that the move would “have clear negative impacts on research and institutions of higher education, which are the country’s economic and security engine and ensure its ongoing existence.”
The group included Israeli Nobel laureates Avram Hershko, Ada Yonath, Aaron Ciechanover, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel, who all received the prize in chemistry; and Daniel Kahneman, who received the award in 2002 for his contributions to economics.
American chemist Roger Kornberg, who won the prize in 2006 and served as a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, also signed the document.
The letter listed countries with weak judicial systems like Turkey, Poland and Hungary, highlighting the fact that none of them are major contributors in the sciences.
“Countries where the political regime set the agenda for research and higher education lost their scientific excellence,” the letter read. “Scientific-technological research and advanced higher education thrive in democratic countries where there is a clear separation of powers.”
The coalition led by Netanyahu has been pushing a dramatic overhaul to the legal system that would increase government control over the judiciary, allow it to override court decisions with the slimmest majority, and give it full power over judicial appointments.
Critics say the reforms will remove the judiciary’s role as a check on the power of the ruling majority and enable assaults on human rights.
The proposal has triggered vociferous pushback from many segments of society, including workers in the tech and financial sectors.
“Scientific development and technological ingenuity require complete freedom,” the letter said. “In countries that weakened their justice system, they also weakened their economies, which resulted in budget cuts for higher education and research institutions.”
The letter also contended that, among other impacts, the “status of women in academia” would be undermined, and that public faith in all institutions of higher learning would be negatively affected.
“We call on the president to listen loud and clear to the voices speaking out against the proposed changes, the prime minister to return to the stance he adopted until recently, and to the Knesset members to heed our call and hit the brakes,” it said.