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IMF says Israel’s judicial reforms is a risk to economy

REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg
An aerial view shows protesters at a demonstration against the nationalist coalition government's judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv on May 6, 2023

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Wednesday flagged Israel’s proposed judiciary reforms as a significant downside risk to the economy that could tighten financial conditions and hinder investment, consumption and long-term growth.

Israel needed to permanently reduce uncertainty around the reforms with a “politically sustainable solution that is clearly communicated and well understood both domestically and abroad”, the IMF said in a statement issued at the end of an “Article IV” staff mission to Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right coalition government has proposed sweeping changes that would limit the supreme court’s power to rule against the legislature and the executive branch, while giving ministers more power in appointing judges.

The plan has sparked domestic protests and caused alarm among Israel’s Western allies over its potential to weaken the rule of law.

Netanyahu says the reforms are seeking a better balance between the different branches of government, but has agreed to delay the overhaul to try to negotiate a middle ground.

“Absent the emergence of a durable and politically sustainable solution, continued uncertainty could significantly increase the price of risk in the economy, tightening financial conditions and hindering investment and consumption, with potential repercussions for growth, also in the longer term,” the IMF said.

It added: “as in any country, maintaining strength of the rule of law would be important for economic success.”

The comments come after Moody’s Investors Service last month lowered its Israel’s A1 sovereign credit rating outlook to stable from positive, citing the reforms.

The IMF review gave Israel strong marks for its economic policies and management, saying that its GDP growth would slow to 2.5 percent in 2023 from “remarkable” 6.5 percent growth in 2022.

It added that public debt-to-GDP levels had returned to pre-Covid levels, its international reserves were ample, and its banking sector had adequate capital and liquidity buffers.

The IMF added that Israel’s monetary policy stance should remain tight given a tight labour market and headline inflation above the central bank’s target range.