Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial overhaul was apparently written by the Kohelet Policy Forum, one of the best-funded research institutes in Israel, which advances nationalist, libertarian policies – and is funded by two American billionaires
The country is in turmoil over the fast-track legislation submitted last week by Justice Minister Yariv Levin to give the Knesset the power to override Supreme Court decisions, give politicians a majority of votes on the judicial selection committee and do away with the courts’ reasonableness standard. In addition, a bill proposed by Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, would allow ministers to choose their own legal advisers.
However, there is a consensus in Israel that despite his legal education, Levin could not have prepared the legislative memorandum he submitted by himself. Therefore, the important question arises: Who wrote the bill, and Rothman’s too?
Ministers and Knesset committee heads do not write legislation – but in the case of Levin and Rothman, the Justice Ministry was not at all involved in the process. Ministry officials and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara saw Levin’s proposal for the first time just two days before he unveiled it to the public. About Rothman’s memorandum, Knesset legal adviser Sagit Afik said that “Rothman’s bill was written independently and may mislead Knesset members.”
So if neither the Justice Ministry, the Knesset, Levin nor Rothman wrote the bills, who did? The answer is the Kohelet Policy Forum and people identified with it. In the case of Rothman’s ministry legal advisers bill, the author was attorney Shimon Nataf, who used to work for the Kohelet Forum and today serves as Rothman’s legal adviser.
Dr. Aviad Bakshi, head of the legal department at the Kohelet Policy Forum.
In the case of the Levin legislation, credit for “legal assistance” goes to Dr. Aviad Bakshi, the head of the legal department, and Dr. Rafi Bitton, a teaching fellow at the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Law.
Like the Knesset legal adviser, jurists who have read the memorandum say that some of the phrasing is written in a slapdash, tendentious and manipulative way. They say that the tendentiousness is particularly evident in how it makes global comparisons, for example, asserting that “this is how it is in America” without noting that the U.S. system of government is completely different from Israel’s, therefore adopting the methods by which America selects judges isn’t necessarily suitable for Israel.
Bill’s explanatory section quotes Kohelet
Kohelet’s fingerprints can be found all over the place. The core section of Levin’s bill, including explanatory sections connected to changes in the composition of the judicial selections committee, quotes almost entirely research that was done for Kohelet by Bakshi, Nataf and Shai-Nitzan Cohen.
In a podcast by Gadi Taub last week, Bitton expressed pride in the fact that he advised Levin on the bill. But Bitton also made sure to give credit to Bakshi for preparing the legislation, saying he “played a significant role.”
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The Kohelet Forum declined on Friday to answer questions on the issue, saying that “we have a firm policy is neither to confirm nor deny collaboration beyond what elected officials choose to reveal at their own initiative.”
Why is this important? Because the Kohelet Forum has been working for many years to advance Levin and Rothman’s legal revolution, employing scores of experts on the law and economy and establishing close ties with Knesset members and activists affiliated with right-wing parties. The list of MKs past and present who give an ear to the Kohelet Forum is too long to be included in this article.
Since it was established a decade ago, the Kohelet Forum has been working behind the scenes with a budget of tens of millions of shekels annually. The money is used to fund retainers and salaries for some 100 researchers who advance its agenda by lobbying MKs and publishing opinion pieces and blogs. The organization is active in social media, for example, and has raised its TikTok activity recently to draw more people to its agenda.
Exactly what does the Kohelet Forum do? The organization is led by its founder, its chairman, Prof. Moshe Koppel, and Executive Director Meir Rubin-Neria. Media reports say the Kohelet Forum wrote the principal wording of the 2018 Nation-State Law and is active in advancing socioeconomic legislation against the minimum wage, public housing, rent control and labor rights, and opposes the public sector and welfare policies wherever it can find opportunities to weaken them.
In other words, the Kohelet Forum’s worldview is based on nationalism, authoritarian government and symbolic democracy as well as a “free” market, mainly for the rich, who benefit from low taxes and market freedom.
Yass and Dantchik’s Club for Growth
None of this should come as a surprise if you know who funds the Kohelet Forum’s generous budget. Its two biggest pacers are Arthur Dantchik and Jeffrey S. Yass, Jewish-American multi-billionaires who, together with their partner Joel Greenberg, control Susquehanna International Group, a securities trading firm and one of the biggest in the United States using algorithmic trading.
Yass, whose affiliation with the Kohelet Forum was first revealed in TheMarker magazine in August 2021, is a financial genius. Dantchik, Kohelet’s biggest contributor, earned Susquehanna massive profits by being one of the first investors in the Chinese company ByteDance, the parent company of the hit TikTok app. Dantchik serves as a TikTok director due to his company’s 15 percent stake, which is worth at least $75 billion.
As of last year, Yass was on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index as the world’s 37th-richest person with a net worth of $34 billion. Dantchik is No. 104 on the Forbes list with a net worth of $7.5 billion. Donations of many tens of millions of dollars a year barely dent their bank accounts.
But what’s important, of course, is their worldview, which can be discovered through the organizations to which they make annual contributions For example, in the United States, Yass and Dantchik have donated to the Club for Growth, which leads a billionaire battle against corporate income tax and regulation, any kind of regulation. Yass has contributed to the group for 20 years and in 2020 was its biggest donor, giving $22 million.
Two years ago, the Club for Growth gave money to politicians supporting former president Donald Trump, including those spreading conspiracy theories that Trump didn’t lose the 2020 election and encouraged the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Jeffrey S. YassCredit: SIG
Yass and Dantchik operate with unusual secrecy and, like the Kohelet Forum, prefer to operate behind the scenes. Nevertheless, on the few occasions where Yass has spoken publicly, he has said he opposes all business regulations, refused to address or denied climate change or inequality, and advocated (as well as contributed) to private education. Above all, he opposes any government interference in his business and money.
An investigation by the nonprofit news organization ProPublica last June revealed that the two paid very few taxes. They claimed that their investments were long-term (on which the U.S. tax rate is lower) even though their company specializes in rapid securities trading. Headlined “Meet the billionaire and rising GOP mega-donor who’s gaming the tax system,” ProPublica reported that “Susquehanna founder and TikTok investor Jeff Yass has avoided $1 billion in taxes while largely escaping public scrutiny. He’s now pouring his money into campaigns to cut taxes and support election deniers.”
Political power to protect the wealthy
Sound familiar? The worldview of the Kohelet Forum’s master, therefore the master of its worldview, fits easily into the organization’s activities in Israel. The organization promotes Yass and Dantchik’s conservative-nationalist agenda that manifests itself in the policy studies it prepares and sends to MKs – a country effectively controlled by the capitalist class, mainly billionaires, who protect themselves and their money through a friendly, authoritarian government.
The story ends as expected, as history has shown many times before: The richest and the government that works on their behalf enjoy the wealth of the country and work around the clock to make sure that nothing changes and that no one has the political power to change it.