Netanyahu attacks "irresponsible" warnings that judicial plans will hurt the economy

Netanyahu attacks “irresponsible” warnings that judicial plans will hurt the economy

Responding to criticism that his government’s judicial reform efforts threaten Israel’s economy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday called on professionals and politicians to stop “irresponsible” fear-mongering, claiming that a plan to transfer power from the courts to politicians would boost the economy.

“In recent days I have heard fears about the impact of our judicial reform plan on our economic resilience,” Netanyahu said. “The truth is just the opposite.”

Putting aside concerns raised by civil society, business leaders, and reportedly the governor of the Bank of Israel that investors are concerned that sweeping reforms will undermine the rule of law in Israel, Netanyahu added, “Our efforts to strengthen Israeli democracy will not only harm the economy, they will strengthen it.” “.

Netanyahu said his political opponents had “dropped a wave of lies about the collapse of the economy” and told the opposition to “act responsibly”.

Global and Israeli economic and business leaders have joined a wave of protest against what the attorney general and opposition politicians have called anti-democratic judicial reforms, raising concerns about the damage to investor confidence in Israel if the raft of reforms continues.

Notable critics include a number of Netanyahu appointees, including current and former Bank of Israel governors and former advisers to Netanyahu who signed an “emergency letter” warning that the reforms could hurt the economy. Economists have warned that the proposals could lead to lower investments in the booming domestic technology industry, one of the most reliable drivers of economic growth.

They also invoked the risk of a “brain drain” and the transfer of research and development centers from Israel, as well as the risk of a downgrade in the country’s credit rating.

Netanyahu, who is technically barred from interfering with legislation that could affect the outcome of his ongoing corruption trial, has been fretting in recent weeks about his support for proposed judicial reforms, which would give the government control over judicial appointments. The power of the Knesset to reinstate laws that have been invalidated by the Supreme Court, and to restrict the court’s ability to evaluate Basic Laws, among other proposals.

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich (L) and Economy Minister Nir Barkat during a press conference at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, January 25, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“When the judicial reform passes, I am convinced that everyone will see that the rule of law is still intact, even strengthened, that democracy remains untouched, even strengthened, and that our free economy has been strengthened and strengthened a lot,” Netanyahu said at Wednesday’s press conference.

“My impression is when we change it,” Netanyahu said of the economy, “and implement judicial reform,” we will get a few points of growth.

He added that investors should “keep investing in Israel, it will be worth it.”

Netanyahu said the reform package would remove unspecified judicial barriers affecting the economy, in addition to arguing that the reform would improve the rule of law by “rebalancing” the government, legislature and court.

“Unnecessary legal measures are like sand in the wheels of the Israeli economy,” he said.

For example, the former prime minister and longtime finance minister said that major infrastructure projects have been “stalled and delayed for years due to redundant legal proceedings”.

Tech workers protest against judicial reform, in Tel Aviv, January 24, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Netanyahu said he personally went to the Supreme Court to enable Israel to extract gas from offshore sites, a process that finally began at the end of last year, but that “the move has been delayed for years due to excess ‘judiciary’.”

Netanyahu did not specify how judicial reform would reduce the economic bottlenecks. The current proposals do not include provisions to add judges or ease pressure on the courts.

Netanyahu also pointed to the long-stalled Tel Aviv metro project as a victim of unnecessary legal action. Before working to revive it this month, his political bloc blocked legislation on the project in an attempt to hasten the collapse of the last Israeli government.

Speaking at Netanyahu’s side, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich dismissed criticism of the judicial reform plan co-drafted by his far-right party as a “political debate”.

Instead, he reaffirmed his commitment to “continuing the same responsible policy” of support for the free market that his predecessor had pushed for, promising to attach a “giant package of reforms” to the state budget to help make doing business easier. in Israel.

Yisrael Beytenu party chairman Avigdor Lieberman, who handed Smotrich the Finance Ministry over to Smotrich in December, responded by tweeting that Netanyahu and Smotrich “are afraid because they know the truth and understand that no one in the world is ready to swallow their lies and slander.”

“The State of Israel is on its way to an economic crisis the likes of which we have not known for decades, and Benjamin Netanyahu is responsible for it,” Lieberman said.

Economy Minister Nir Barkat, a former businessman and investor, joined Netanyahu and Smotrich on stage, calling on critics to “stop using economics and high technology for political reasons and personal agendas.”

“High technology has been and will continue to be the leading crown of the Israeli economy,” Barkat said, urging critics not to disturb “the branch on which we all sit.”

He said, “Don’t sacrifice her for a political debate.”

Secretary of State Eli Cohen, who recently returned from the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, said, “In none of my meetings has judicial reform and its impact on the economy been touched upon.”

Similarly, Cohen claimed that the matter was not brought up in his diplomatic meetings with countries with which Israel does not have official relations, saying instead that they are interested in getting closer to the Israeli economy.

Earlier on Wednesday, hundreds of Israeli economists published an “emergency letter” warning that far-reaching judicial change being offered by Netanyahu’s month-old government could have serious repercussions for the economy.

According to Channel 12, no prominent Israeli economist supports the reform proposals.

Proponents of judicial reform emphasized the need to rebalance the power of the public authorities vis-à-vis the activist Supreme Court.

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