Democrats reportedly told Netanyahu judicial overhaul makes it hard to defend Israel

Delegation led by US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries met PM last week, said to have warned controversial legislation is creating negative ‘noise’ among constituents

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) meets with a delegation of congressional Democrats led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in Jerusalem on April 24, 2024 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (c) meets with a delegation of congressional Democrats led by House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in Jerusalem on April 24, 2024 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

US House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries and other members of a Democratic congressional delegation reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in Jerusalem last week that his government’s drastic judicial overhaul plan effort makes it harder for their party to continue defending the Jewish state in Washington.

Members of the Democratic delegation told Netanyahu that the temporarily paused overhaul had created a lot of negative “noise” about Israel among their constituents, Axios reported Wednesday.

“They told Netanyahu it is very difficult for them to defend Israel under such circumstances, and their message was: help us help you,” one source who was present at the meeting was quoted as saying.

Netanyahu’s and Jeffries’s offices both declined to comment on the report. The Prime Minister’s Office had said at the time that Netanyahu used the meeting to focus on two favored topics — the Iranian nuclear threat and expanding the Abraham Accords.

One of the Democratic members of Congress who was at the meeting told Axios that the warning to Netanyahu also came from the Jewish lawmakers present.

“I can confirm that this very message was shared with Netanyahu by the delegation and, in particular, by each of the Jewish members at the table,” said the lawmaker, who asked to remain anonymous.

Nonetheless, all the lawmakers shared with Netanyahu “our unique and enduring friendship” and “warm sentiment” for Israel’s 75th Independence Day, which was celebrated last week, the lawmaker said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries in Jerusalem on April 24, 2024 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

One of the sources said that Netanyahu told the visitors he is interested in reaching a compromise with opposition parties on the overhaul plans and specified that a controversial proposal to enable the Knesset to overrule the High Court of Justice with 61 out of its total 120 MKs was no longer being considered.

Aside from Jeffries, the delegation included Reps. Gregory Meeks, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Yvette Clarke, Dean Phillips, and Sara Jacobs.

Also sitting in on the meeting were Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, who has served as a point man for Netanyahu on relations with the US, and US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides.

The reported atmosphere in the meeting contrasted the mood during a visit by House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in Jerusalem at the head of a bipartisan delegation.

In his public remarks, which included an address to the Knesset, McCarthy did not push Netanyahu about the judicial overhaul, though he noted to reporters that democracy must include checks and balances.

“Israel is their own nation, only it can decide what it wants to do. In a democracy you want checks and balances and a separation of powers… but we leave it up to you how to decide that,” McCarthy said at a press conference.

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy speaks at a special session of the Knesset plenum, May 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli cabinet has butted heads with US President Biden administration over its effort to overhaul the judiciary as well as its policies toward the Palestinians. Since January there have been mass protests against the overhaul, which critics say will sap the High Court of Justice’s power to act as a check on executive power. The government and its supporters say the legislation is needed to rein in an over-intrusive court.

Netanyahu agreed to pause the legislative blitz to allow negotiations with opposition party representatives, but no major breakthrough has been announced.

Biden said in March that Netanyahu would not be invited to the White House in the “near term,” noting his distress over the government’s judicial overhaul effort and urging the premier to “walk away” from the legislation it had been advancing on the matter.

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