Central bank policymaker quits to fight Israel's judicial overhaul

FILE PHOTO: Protests against Israel's right-wing government in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -A member of the Bank of Israel's Monetary Committee has quit in order to fight the new right-wing government's contested plan to overhaul the judiciary, Calcalist newspaper reported on Monday.

The proposed reforms, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts as reining in Supreme Court overreach but critics fear will undermine democracy, have sparked a stormy debate, with weekly protests spreading across Israel.

"I feel that I cannot sit and discuss whether to raise the interest rate by a quarter of a percent or half a percent while Israeli democracy is in danger," Moshe Hazan, a Tel Aviv University economics professor, told Calcalist.

The Bank of Israel confirmed that Hazan had resigned on Sunday from the six-member Monetary Committee, after serving since 2017.

The monetary panel sets the central bank's benchmark interest rate, and has been raising rates sharply to combat high inflation. "The government's plans could hurt the independence of the judiciary and civil service and this will heavily damage Israel's democracy and economy," Hazan said.

The Bank of Israel said Hazan had informed Netanyahu that he was leaving the committee in order to "take part in public-political activity". The Monetary Committee would continue with just five members, it said. Reuters could not immediately reach Hazan for comment.

In an interview with Israeli national public broadcaster KAN on Monday, Hazan said the proposed reforms would cause lasting damage to the economy.

“People who have the ability to pick up and go to other countries that are easier to live in will simply leave, what we call brain drain, that’s going to be a hard blow to the market,” Hazan said.

The judicial reforms, which have yet to be written into law, would tighten political control over judicial appointments and limit the Supreme Court's powers to overturn government decisions or Knesset laws.

Critics say that risks undermining minority rights, could foster corruption and scare away investors.

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges he denies, has dismissed the street protests as a refusal by leftists to accept the results of last November's election, which produced one of the most right-wing governments in Israel's history.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin has said that the reforms are meant to restore balance between the judiciary, legislative and executive branches.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Susan Fenton)