US business leaders warn of boycott if Israel pushes through judicial reforms

MEE Staff

Middle East Eye  /  March 13, 2023

In a rare rebuke, US business leaders warn Israel that investors could pull out of the country if judicial reforms are pushed through without a broader consensus.

More than 250 US business leaders and politicians warned in an open letter on Sunday evening that Israel’s judicial reforms will make it “increasingly difficult” to defend the country internationally. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned legislation to overhaul the country’s judiciary has been described as a “judicial coup”.

If passed, the highly controversial law would allow politicians to overturn High Court judgements with a simple majority and appoint judges. 

“Many leaders in the business community will feel compelled to reevaluate their reliance on Israel as a strategic destination for investment, sourcing talent, building engineering centres, and maintaining intellectual property,” business leaders warned in their open letter. 

Israel is in the midst of a political crisis that has pitted Netanyahu’s far-right government against the country’s civil society, academic and business elite, and former government ministers and military figures.

“We want to express our deep dismay over proposed changes to the judiciary and legal system in the country,” warned the signatories, adding that “the division within the country over this issue is destabilizing and, of course, disheartening.”

Among the signatories were former US Treasury undersecretary Jeffrey Goldstein, Tom Glocer, a former Thomson Reuters CEO and several other senior former US government officials. The names of many other business leaders were not disclosed. 

The letter addressed to Netanyahu expressed admiration for the prime minister for his personal dedication “to [the] service of Israel and truly appreciate your contributions”.

Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, and the reforms could enable him to evade conviction or see his case dismissed. Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has railed publicly against the justice system, calling it biased against him.

“Please do not allow your legacy to be the erosion of the country’s identity as the strongest (and only) democracy in the Middle East, the destruction of the nation’s great economic success, and the creation of a colossal divide within Israel and with the rest of the business world,” the letter added.

Following the open-letter, Josh Kadis from the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, said “these past weeks have shown that it is possible for the [international] community, especially the Jewish diaspora, to mobilize against Israeli policy. There’s been broad opposition, protests, and many are even supporting boycotts, divestment, sanctions – tools that were previously off limits.”

Rising tensions

Israel has been engulfed in political turmoil for over two months, as tens of thousands of people continue to take to the streets in mass protests.

Demonstrators want the government to scrap a controversial judicial overhaul plan they say threatens checks and balances in the country.

The demonstrations have been growing, drawing in supporters from various professions, including the military, the justice system and high-tech industry.

In light of the proposed reforms the Israeli currency has declined and the leading US financial institute JPMorgan has warned of a growing risk of investing in the country. 

Separately, Israel has been struck by soaring tensions in the occupied West Bank. The situation has deteriorated with Israeli night-time raids resulting in the killing of scores of Palestinians. 

At least 81 Palestinians have been killed this year, including 15 children, which corresponds to a rate of more than one killing every day. 

It’s the bloodiest start to a year since 2000, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

Palestinian have killed at least 13 Israelis this year.

Fears are growing ahead of April, when Passover, Easter and Ramadan all overlap, that a wider outbreak of violence could flare. 

CIA director William Burns recently said current tensions bear an “unhappy resemblance” to the Second Intifada, referring to about five years of heightened conflict dating from the start of this century.