Tech workers rally against overhaul for 2nd week in a row

Netanyahu says opponents trying to harm economy with criticism of judicial overhaul

PM claims political rivals seeking to spook investors due to ‘bitterness’ over election loss; Lapid: Netanyahu’s own ‘bitterness’ over corruption trial is destroying democracy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event at Haifa Port on January 31, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at an event at Haifa Port on January 31, 2023 (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday accused his political rivals of trying to harm the economy with their predictions of investors fleeing and the shekel weakening as a result of his hardline coalition’s proposals for a controversial overhaul of the judicial system.

Netanyahu aimed his allegations at the opposition, even though top financial experts have been issuing similar warnings that the plan may cause massive economic damage.

“It’s not pleasant to lose elections… but you don’t need to channel this bitterness into harming the Israeli economy,” Netanyahu chided the opposition during an event at the Haifa Port following the recent completion of its purchase by a consortium of firms led by India’s Adani Group.

“First of all, it won’t help, because the economy is so strong and the smart investors come here,” he said. “I suggest you simply join us and do the right thing: Build our economy, continue to open up and nurture our free market [economy], and together we’ll ensure a wonderful future.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid responded in kind, tweeting: “It’s not fun to be a defendant in criminal cases, but you don’t need to turn the bitterness into the destruction of Israel’s democracy and economy,” in reference to the premier’s ongoing trial on corruption charges.

Netanyahu’s comments were not the first time the coalition tried to blame the opposition for potential economic damage caused by the plan. A day earlier, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accused Lapid of lending a hand to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement with his criticism of the planned overhaul.

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Lapid hit back, saying that he had been “fighting BDS when Smotrich was still a hilltop youth activist,” referring to the far-right minister’s association with ultranationalist Jewish settlers who build illegal outposts in the West Bank and often clash with Palestinians and Israeli security forces.

Financial experts, companies and business organizations have been stepping up efforts to voice concern over the judicial overhaul plan, which they say threatens democracy and will harm the economy, particularly the thriving local tech industry.

Many fear that a weakening of the judiciary system will create uncertainty and reduce the likelihood that foreign investors will inject funds into local companies. This in turn could force local and international businesses to leave and set up shop elsewhere.

Illustrative: View of the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, November 29, 2020 (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

Bank chiefs warned Netanyahu last week that they have started to see an outflow of funds in recent days, with savings accounts being moved from Israel abroad.

The premier, who is technically blocked from weighing in on legislation that could affect the outcome of his ongoing corruption trial, has pushed back against the mounting criticism, claiming that the current level of judicial oversight is actually hampering economic growth.

Hundreds of workers in the tech sector protested on Tuesday for the second week in a row, marching at 16 locations across the country to demonstrate against the government’s contentious plans to overhaul the judicial system.

In addition to last week’s signs in Hebrew, which read, “Without democracy, there is no high tech,” and “No freedom, no high tech,” demonstrators this week also held aloft large signs in English that read, “Save our startup nation” and “No balances – no checks.”

Tech workers march in Tel Aviv to protest against the government’s planned overhaul of the judicial system, January 31, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90 )

The Netanyahu coalition’s proposals, as presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, would severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions, with an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate struck-down laws with a bare majority of 61; give the government complete control over the selection of judges; prevent the court from using a test of “reasonableness” to judge legislation and government decisions; and allow ministers to appoint their own legal advisers instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

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.

On Monday, 50 former ministry directors — many of them appointed by Netanyahu — joined the warnings against the government’s plan, saying it would lead to “long-term” damage to the country’s economic growth and quality of life.

Tobias Siegal and Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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