TEL AVIV, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Israel’s economy minister dismissed fears on Wednesday that the new right-wing coalition’s judicial reform plans would harm the economy and trigger a brain drain, in comments to a conference showcasing Israeli cyber technology firms and innovation.
Leading Israeli economists say the planned reforms could inflict “long-term damage” on Israel’s economy, and high-tech professionals staged their second protest against the plans on Tuesday in central Tel Aviv despite heavy rain.
The reforms would tighten political control over judicial appointments and limit the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn government decisions or laws approved by the Knesset.
Asked about the concerns, Economy Minister Nir Barkat, who once founded a software company, told the conference: “I understand that there’s a challenge internally.”
“But I think that if we… work smartly, we have to separate between the challenge, the economic challenge, and political challenges internally in Israel,” said Barkat, who spoke English and was flanked by floor-to-ceiling screens featuring active graphics of computer code racing over a skyline of skyscrapers.
In separate comments later to Reuters, Barkat rejected concerns that high tech workers might leave Israel, saying the country would remain a beacon for talent and innovation.
“Look at the missions that come here from all over the world. They’re here because they understand that the talent is here. It’s created in the army, it’s created in our DNA. And there’s no doubt in my mind that it will continue scaling and growing,” Barkat said.
“The majority (of people who come to do business here) don’t care or don’t look into other issues that we have – we’re a democracy, we’re a very strong democracy,” he added.
In a letter published by Israeli news site Ynet last week, more than 250 top economists – including former central bank officials – expressed “deep concern that weakening the judiciary will lead to long-term damage to the economy’s growth trajectory and the quality of life for Israel’s residents.”
Barkat was speaking at the Cybertech Global 2023 conference in Tel Aviv, an annual event which organizers say has attracted almost 20,000 people and some 100 companies from 86 countries this year. (Reporting by Emily Rose Editing by Gareth Jones)