Professor Robert Israel Aumann is a mathematician who received the 2005 Nobel Prize in Economics for his work on game theory. In supporting the current government’s efforts toward judicial reform, he refers to the judicial revolution implemented by former Chief Justice Aharon Barak three decades ago, which greatly expanded the powers of the Supreme Court.
“The current effort is intended to restore the situation to what it was before Barak’s revolution, when he greatly expanded powers in many ways,” Aumann explained. “Barak introduced the concept of ‘reasonableness,’ which states that if the Supreme Court finds a government action or Knesset law unreasonable, it can simply say that it is unreasonable and therefore reverse it.” Aumann noted that Barak once told Yoni Kempinski, editor of Israel National News, that the Supreme Court justices are like the sages who wrote the Talmud. Barak believes they are both legislators and judges.
“Indeed, he is right that our Talmudic sages were both legislators and judges, but the thing is, here in Israel we don’t have theocracy, we don’t have the kind of government that existed in Talmudic times. We have a democracy, and in a democracy it is the elected officials who make the laws, and the judges who administer those laws,” stressed the Nobel laureate.
As protesters warn of a “dictatorship,” Aumann insists the situation is exactly the opposite. “Proponents of judicial reform say, ‘We’re done with the judiciary interfering in contentious, ideological issues,'” said the professor. “The Supreme Court should not rule on ideological issues. The Supreme Court is there to judge according to the law.”
Aumann also downplayed claims by senior Treasury officials that the legal reforms will hurt the economy, saying their public predictions of Israel’s economic demise, rather than the reform itself, are more likely to provoke public concern that will lead to a downturn in the economy becomes. “The discussion in Israel is unique because nobody talks about the actual content of the judicial reform, about the legislation,” said Aumann. He wonders why the people who claim the economy is being hurt never address specific reforms that they claim are hurting the country financially.
“In the short term, the economy will suffer, but that is not due to judicial reform. It’s because people are saying the economy is going to suffer and the economy is very vulnerable. When people have to look to the future to decide whether to invest, and when economists are predicting a downturn in the economy, people will not invest. It’s not because of the reform, it’s because of what they hear from economists,” he pointed out, adding that the economists’ dire predictions are “irresponsible and unfounded.”
“They are irresponsible because the prediction will lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, and it may actually happen. But I think smart investors will wait until they think the economy has bottomed and then they will invest, and there will be another big boom in Israel’s economy because the prophecies are completely unfounded and the economy itself is resilient . If the reform has an impact on the economy, it will be positive, because the Supreme Court is very activist,” Aumann added. He noted that the Supreme Court over the years has contested and overturned not only Knesset legislation and government decisions, but also private contracts.
Aumann predicts that once the judicial reforms are passed, the economy will experience a period of growth. “I’ve been saying this for years: an activist court system, an activist judiciary, is bad for the economy. I think people will see that the economy has not been damaged and they will invest again and there will be a big recovery.”
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