Lapid: US 'involvement' includes billions on Israeli defense

Far-right minister slams Blinken: Netanyahu doesn’t need ‘lesson in democracy’

Religious Zionism’s Strock says democracy about majority rule, not ‘foreign involvement,’ as visiting US secretary of state raises concerns about Israel’s path in meeting with PM

Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock speaks during a visit of Religious Zionism party members in Netiv Haavot neighborhood in Gush Etzion, West Bank, on October 26, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
Settlements and National Projects Minister Orit Strock speaks during a visit of Religious Zionism party members in Netiv Haavot neighborhood in Gush Etzion, West Bank, on October 26, 2022. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Far-right National Missions Minister Orit Strock criticized US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, a day after he signaled that the White House is clearly concerned over initiatives by Israel’s new hardline government.

“Dear Mr. Blinken, I understand that you decided to give our prime minister a lesson in democracy,” the Religious Zionism lawmaker tweeted.

“Well, democracy is first of all the duty of a country to determine its course according to the votes of its citizens, each of which is given equal weight, without foreign involvement,” Strock wrote.

“Demonstrations, however legitimate they may be, are not equivalent to a ballot,” wrote Strock, in a very rare public rebuking of a senior US official by an Israeli government minister.

Strock is no stranger to controversy, and last month was denounced as racist and discriminatory when she said during a discussion on proposed legislation that doctors should be allowed to refuse treatment to patients on religious grounds.

While Blinken’s comments drew Strock’s ire, he won support from opposition leader Yair Lapid, one of the fiercest critics of the government’s plans.

Following his meeting with Blinken, Lapid said their discussions were “first and foremost about the shared values of the principles of democracy and the preservation of democratic institutions.”

Lapid later responded to Strock’s comments, saying “the time has come for Netanyahu, with all his weakness, to at least put minister Strock in her place.”

“The Americans’ ‘foreign involvement’ that she is speaking out against includes $38 billion in aid, funding for Iron Dome batteries, Apache helicopters and the F-35 planes that are supposed to attack Iran,” Lapid tweeted.

The Netanyahu coalition is pushing a controversial overhaul that would increase government control over the judiciary. The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly mass protests and public petitions by various officials, professionals, and private companies.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the radical overhaul will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting too much power to the executive branch, and leaving minorities undefended.

Netanyahu insists that the sweeping plans will instead strengthen democracy and therefore the nation’s financial position, and says that he is carrying out the will of the voters.

Israelis protest against the proposed changes to the legal system, in Tel Aviv, on January 28, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Speaking alongside Netanyahu at a Monday press conference in Jerusalem, Blinken placed a noticeable emphasis on the democratic values shared by the two countries.

“Throughout the relationship between our countries, what we come back to time and again is that it is rooted both in shared interests and in shared values,” said Blinken.

“That includes our support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice for all, the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society – and the vibrancy of Israel’s civil society has been on full display of late.”

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)

“The commitment of people in both our countries to make their voices heard, to defend their rights, is one of the unique strengths of our democracies,” Blinken continued. “Another is a recognition that building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they’re embraced and that they endure.”

Hinting at the deep disagreement between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government, Blinken said that the US and Israel have over the years strengthened their democracies by “holding ourselves to the mutual standards we’ve established; and by speaking frankly and respectfully, as friends do, when we agree and when we do not.”

Speaking before Blinken, Netanyahu stressed that Israel and the US “share common values; two strong democracies which will remain, I assure you, two strong democracies.”

In talks with Blinken, Netanyahu focused the conversation on Tehran, telling Blinken that the international community had seen “the true face of Iran.”

Both men also spoke about Israeli-Palestinian relations. After expounding on the importance of helping Israel integrate into the region and expand the Abraham Accords, Blinken emphasized that “these efforts are not a substitute for progress between Israelis and Palestinians.”

Lazar Berman contributed to this report

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