US lauds pause on judicial overhaul, blasts bills Netanyahu has been seeking to pass
The Biden administration welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement Monday that his government would temporarily halt its legislative effort to reform the judiciary and urged Israel’s political leaders to pass a compromise that would protect Israel’s democratic foundations.
“We welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for reconciliation,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing. “Compromise is exactly what we were asking for.”
“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the widest possible support base,” she said.
In frank comments earlier in the day, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the legislation being promoted by Netanyahu’s coalition government “goes against the whole idea of checks and balances.”
For the past three months, the United States has been voicing its concerns about the government’s judicial reform effort in both public and private forums. US President Joe Biden called Netanyahu last week to further emphasize that concern. Concern came to a head on Sunday when Netanyahu announced the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter called for a halt to the overhaul, warning that protests against it had led to a breakdown in the IDF’s operational capabilities.
After massive public pressure that has seen 12 weeks of massive demonstrations, and, on Monday, the country’s main labor federation and local councils announced general strikes, Netanyahu said he was allowing “delay” to “provide a real opportunity for real -dialogue,” but he emphasized that “either way,” an amendment would be put forward to “restore the balance” he said had been lost between the branches of government in Israel.
The chief executive indicated that the “time out” would last until the start of the Knesset summer session, which begins on April 30.
US Senators Chris Murphy and Mitt Romney issued a joint bipartisan statement expressing their support for Netanyahu’s announcement.
“The US-Israel relationship has long been underpinned by shared democratic values, and we hope that this delay will provide an opportunity to work toward reconciliation and de-escalation of the current crisis,” the senators said.
Top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee Greg Meeks gave a similar statement, saying that Israel “faces enormous national security challenges and must remain focused and united. It cannot bring to light the self-inflicted wounds we have seen in the last few days.”
Mainstream US Jewish organizations, which are generally wary of weighing in on Israel’s internal affairs but have been speaking out more recently, issued a joint statement praising Netanyahu’s decision.
“It was very unfortunate to look at the past three months and still see a textbook case of democracy in action. We respect the political leaders, business executives, community activists, cultural figures, and ordinary Israelis who took to the streets, exercising their love for the country, and their passion for democracy,” read the joint statement from Congress. of Presidents, the Anti-Israeli. Defamation League, Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee.
“As a next step, we urge all Knesset factions, both coalition and opposition, to use this time to build an agreement that includes the broad support of Israeli civil society. Israel’s political leaders need to adopt a more respectful tone and debate. The hallmark of democracy is public consensus and mutual consideration,” the groups added. “We are confident that the resilience of the Israeli democracy will overcome the enormous challenges it faces.”
The speech was also welcomed on Monday by UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who said in a statement, “It is vital that the shared democratic values that underpin the relationship are upheld and that a strong system of checks and balances is upheld.”
“We call on all parties to find common ground and seek a long-term compromise on this sensitive issue.”
Later this week, Netanyahu plans to make a virtual appearance at the US State Department’s Democracy Summit, two US officials told The Times of Israel.
Israel is one of about 120 countries invited to take part in the three-day confab that starts on Tuesday. Netanyahu is to deliver a pre-recorded speech and participate in a panel on the economic benefits of democratic rule, a US official said, confirming a report in the Haaretz daily.
The invitations were sent months ago, but Kirby was peppered with questions at a briefing earlier on Monday about whether the United States would bar Netanyahu’s participation, due to his government’s efforts to politicize and severely restrict the judiciary.
Kirby said he had nothing to share on the matter.
Although Democratic backsliding counties such as Turkey and Hungary did not receive invitations, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and India had and will have representatives alongside Netanyahu.
State Department spokesman Vedant Patel confirmed that Israel has been invited to the summit, as it was last year, and said the administration would have more information on the confab in the coming days.