White House backs Herzog's efforts 'to seek a solution'

Blinken urges consensus on Israeli judicial overhaul: ‘The best way forward’

Amid anti-government protests rocking Jewish state, secretary of state says US won’t take sides on legislative proposals in the ‘very vibrant democracy of Israel’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during an interview with AFP in Niamey, Niger, on March 16, 2023. (Boureima Hama/AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during an interview with AFP in Niamey, Niger, on March 16, 2023. (Boureima Hama/AFP)

NIAMEY, Niger — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told AFP that major reforms require consensus, as Israel is rocked by protests over a bid by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to remake the nation’s judiciary.

In an interview late Thursday, Blinken said that while the United States would not take sides on details of proposals in the “very vibrant democracy of Israel,” finding “consensus is the best way forward.”

“One thing that we know from our own experience as democracies is that when you’re looking to make big changes — major reforms — in your laws, your institutions, consensus is maybe the most important thing,” he said in the interview in Niger.

Consensus is key to “making sure that you have something that’s not only accepted, but that it also will last — is durable.”

Blinken’s comments echoed US President Joe Biden, who last month called for “consensus building” in his first public remarks on the overhaul.

The secretary of state also stressed consensus while visiting Israel in January, when his emphasis on the democratic values shared by the two countries underscored the administration’s concerns over the planned shakeup.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, during a press conference in Jerusalem on January 30, 2023. (DEBBIE HILL / POOL / AFP)

Netanyahu’s new right-religious government has proposed major reforms that include allowing lawmakers to shield legislation from being reviewed by the High Court and giving the ruling majority control over judicial picks.

A number of polls have indicated the legislation is broadly unpopular with the public.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets and President Isaac Herzog has warned that the proposals could ignite a civil war. In a bid to bridge the divides, Herzog on Wednesday presented an alternate reform proposal, which was swiftly rejected by Netanyahu and his allies.

Some critics allege that Netanyahu is pushing through the radical changes to protect himself as he fights corruption charges, which he denies.

Blinken’s latest comments came as a top White House spokesman said the administration backs Herzog’s effort to broker an alternative.

“The genius of our democracy — and frankly Israel’s democracy — is that they’re built on strong institutions, that they include checks and balances that foster an independent judiciary,” the National Security Council’s John Kirby said Thursday during a press briefing. “We support President Herzog’s ongoing effort to seek a solution that is consistent with those same democratic principles.”

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