The hysterical handwringing about judicial reform – which intelligent observers know will yet be moderated and slowed by the process of negotiating this through the Knesset – only feeds the anti-Israel monster that exists out there in the world, saps Israeli and Jewish self-confidence, and worst of all – creates self-fulfilling prophesies about Israel’s economic isolation. Alas, this is time-worn left-wing trick: Threatening global ruin to scare-off Israelis from reasonable right-wing policies.
Published in The Jerusalem Post, February 3, 2023; and Israel Hayom, February 5, 2023. Print-friendly copy
When Prof. Jacob Frenkel warns that the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform plans pose a risk to Israel’s international economic and financial standing, I sit up and listen.
Frenkel has broad international financial experience and served as Governor of the Bank of Israel for five years, appointed by Netanyahu.
Writing in this newspaper earlier this week, Frenkel cautioned that a “debilitation of the judicial system” might reduce foreign investors’ interest in Israel, and lead to higher borrowing costs for the Israeli government because of a cut in the country’s credit rating – thus delivering a serious blow to Israel’s economy.
An impartial expert body, like the National Security Council, should carefully examine Frenkel’s reproach, and suggest methods of overcoming any international repercussions. But as Frenkel himself wrote, he is not a legal expert, and his take on judicial reform is off the mark. The reform plans will strengthen, not debilitate, Israel’s judicial system, and indeed strengthen its democracy and economy.
Beyond Frenkel, it is easy to see how the specter of Israel’s sequestration and economic isolation by the world is being exaggerated, purposefully so by the Israeli Left. The Left is running a broad scale scare campaign about the judicial reform plans.
This is an old trick that has been pulled by the Israeli Left repeatedly: To deliberately overstate and wildly overestimate threats against Israel, especially the threats of BDS, lawfare, and economic ruin. Time and time again, this has proven to be unsubstantiated doom and gloom meant to frighten the Israeli public into retreat and withdrawal on the Palestinian front.
In 2013, former prime ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert warned of a “diplomatic tsunami” that would befall Israel if the Palestinians went ahead and got their supposed statehood approved by the United Nations General Assembly. In panic, they urged Israel to make radical diplomatic concessions to prevent the disaster.
Well, the Palestinians got their vote and their upgraded UN status, yet the sky did not fall-in on Israel.
This scare tactic then became the central playbook of foreign minister and “minister for the promotion of the diplomatic process” Tzipi Livni. In 2013-2014 (when Israel’s foreign relations supposedly were “crashing”; when the international diplomatic noose purportedly was “tightening around Israel’s neck”) she would wail every day about Israel’s impending isolation because of the looming Western boycott of Israel.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and “lawfare” movements were everywhere and overwhelming, according to Livni. Israel was about to be hit with unprecedented diplomatic, economic, and academic chill, she barked, unless of course Israel snapped quickly to Livni’s tune of withdrawal from the West Bank and conceded a state to the Palestinians.
At the time, finance minister Yair Lapid chimed-in with a shabbily concocted report that confirmed Livni’s premonitions. Lapid advised that the pocketbook of every Israeli was going to be hit hard by Western BDS activity unless Israel scurried to the camp of US Secretary of State John Kerry and hurried to cut a deal with the Palestinians.
In fact, the “threat” of a global boycott against Israel was so obsessively talked about those days that you might have thought it a greater threat than the growth of Iranian forces on Israel’s borders.
Just last year, when he was foreign minister, Yair Lapid warned again that Israel had better make concessions to the Palestinians, otherwise the threat of Israel being designated an “apartheid state” would grow severe.
It is the same trick: Create a bogeyman (the threat of Israel being declared an “apartheid state” by the UN Human Rights Council or some other biased and irrelevant body) to frighten the Israeli public into adopting a fatalistic narrative and making unwarranted concessions to the Palestinians.
Yediot Ahronot also has been riding the boycott “threat” for years with obsessive coverage of the BDS phenomenon worldwide and a broad selection of commentary on how to tackle the “existential threat” to Israel.
The reasons for Yediot’s laser-like focus on the BDS issue are clear. Firstly, BDS is good business for Yediot. It sells lots of newspapers. Israelis are duly concerned about BDS attacks on Israel and Zionism. Secondly, Yediot’s take on the BDS phenomena is heavily colored by the paper’s anti-Netanyahu and left-wing agenda.
In parallel, politicians on the Israeli right-wing have at times reverted to such scare tactics as well. They and some right-wing activists in the world Jewish community increasingly seem happy to shrei gevalt, to cry boycott, because it provides evidence that antisemites who want to dismantle Israel are everywhere – as the right always has warned. To circle the wagons and rally the troops, at times the Right also wrongfully elevated BDS from nuisance to “existential threat.”
THERE ARE MANY REASONS why the nightmarish scenarios of Israel’s isolation are inaccurate, including the weakness of the Arab world, the declining clout of Europe, the resilience of Israel’s reputation in North America, the robustness Israel’s structural ties to global technology and business hubs, and more.
The fact is that far more global companies buy from Israel than boycott Israel; far more universities and scientists collaborate with their Israeli counterparts than shun them; far more churches support Israel than condemn Israel; far more entertainers perform in Israel than avoid Israel, and so on.
In sum, BDS and lawfare are problems that can be contained. They are not a “great struggle,” nor a “war,” nor an “existential threat” – all hyperbolic terms that once again rashly were bandied about this week in a slightly different context.
The hysterical handwringing about judicial reform – which intelligent observers know will yet be moderated and slowed by the process of negotiating this through the Knesset – only feeds the anti-Israel monster that exists out there in the world, saps Israeli and Jewish self-confidence, and worst of all – creates self-fulfilling prophesies about Israel’s economic isolation.
A good, or shall I say bad, example of the extreme left scare campaign now underway is the gargantuan attention devoted by the Israeli media this week to Tom Livne, CEO of the Israeli unicorn firm Verbit. Livne announced to great fanfare (an announcement that was pumped and promoted by Channel 12 as if the Messiah had arrived) that he was leaving Israel and stopping to pay taxes because of the judicial reform plans of Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
Livne also urged other the executives to follow his lead. He said that he already has begun to withhold and withdraw investments in the Israeli economy.
Except that Tom Livne is a known hard-left activist who was talking about leaving Israel long before Yariv Levin became justice minister. And long before Levin, Livne had begun moving Verbit out of Israel.
So, excuse me for great cynicism about Tom Livne’s re-birth as the bon-ton “brave” businessman of the day, as a defender of Israeli democracy against the right-wing hordes that supposedly would dismantle Israel’s judiciary and democracy. It is the same trick that Barak, Olmert, and Livni once tried: Scare-off Israelis from reasonable right-wing policies by exaggerating their dangers.