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As foreign investors warn over Israel’s future, ratings firm accused of anti-Israel bias says it’s not worried — for now

A spokesperson for the investing rating company Morningstar said that its analysis designating Israel a low-risk country does not yet account for Netanyahu’s judicial reform overhaul

(JTA) — As much of the financial world increasingly eyes political developments in Israel with concern, a company that specializes in assessing investments based on social responsibility criteria made a special announcement Wednesday in which it declared Israel “a low-risk country.” 

That designation is both a signal to investors that they are unlikely to get entangled in human rights abuses or other scandals if they put their money in Israel, and a reassurance intended for pro-Israel advocates who have accused the company of bias against Israel. 

The announcement from the multibillion-dollar Chicago-based financial research firm Morningstar is the latest entry in a debate about how companies around the world should regard the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One side says that Israel should be treated as regular Western democracy and the other says that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians should put the country in the class of authoritarian regimes. 

But another debate about Israel’s investment worthiness has emerged in recent months following the election of a new Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose slim parliamentary majority relies on the support of parties with far-right platforms. 

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, has vowed to overhaul Israel’s judicial system and rein in the independence of the courts. Many financial analysts consider a weakened judiciary a red flag for investors. 

Sarah Wirth, a spokesperson for Morningstar, said that its analysis designating Israel a low-risk country does not yet account for recent developments in Israel.

“Some of the changes developing in Israel may impact their Country Risk Rating once we incorporate them into our analysis,” Wirth wrote in an email to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in reference to the judicial reform plan. 

The latest warning about Israel’s place in the global economy emerged Friday with the leak of an internal report written by JPMorgan, one of the largest banks in the world. 

The report compared Israel to Poland, which passed a similar judicial reform in 2016 and saw a downgrade to its credit rating, which was a major blow because national credit ratings can either attract or drive away investments from abroad. 

JPMorgan analysts wrote that Israel’s credit rating still “stands comfortably in the investment grade bucket” but that Netanyahu’s plan could cause it to go down.

The report adds to a warning by another Wall Street giant, Goldman Sachs, which said last week that the Israeli shekel could be affected by “growing concern over domestic political developments.”

“The five most recent elections over the past three-year period have had typically limited read-through to financial markets,” Goldman Sachs economist Tadas Gedminas wrote in a report. “This is not to say that the current situation could not have a more meaningful impact this time around, and we will closely monitor ongoing developments.”

Netanyahu has rejected criticism of his judicial plan by saying that the proposed reforms are being misrepresented by his critics and that they would merely bring Israel’s courts in line with courts in other Western countries. The plan would limit the ability of the Supreme Court to rule laws and government actions as unconstitutional, give the government control over the appointments of new judges and end the independence of the position of legal advisor across various government offices, among other measures. 

Netanyahu has also said that regardless of the warnings by analysts, international investors are excited about Israel and eager to acquire equity in Israeli companies. His latest pronouncement came from France where he said he met with 60 local business leaders. 

“What they’re saying about investors running away is nonsense,” Netanyahu said. “We want to increase our investments in Israel.”

Some of Israel’s own business leaders are concerned enough about the country’s direction that they are choosing to decamp. The CEO of tech company Verbit, which was valued at $2 billion in 2021, announced Tuesday that he would leave the country to avoid paying millions in taxes as a protest of the judicial overhaul plan. 

“Over the past few years, I’ve paid tens of millions of dollars in taxes and my company has paid hundreds of millions in taxes,” Verbit CEO Tom Livne said on Israel’s Channel 12. He encouraged others in Israel’s vaunted tech sector to do the same. 

Livne’s announcement comes about a week after two Israeli tech firms, including one that was valued at $3.7 billion in 2021, said they would withdraw assets from Israel for the same reason. 

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