Lapid-era envoys to France, Canada stepped down weeks ago

Israeli envoy in NY ‘deeply concerned’ by country’s direction as overhaul advances

In rare criticism of the government by a sitting diplomat, Asaf Zamir, a Lapid appointee, says a ‘national home’ in Israel ‘really must be democratic’

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Israel's Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir speaks at a JNF-USA event on October 28, 2021. (Shahar Azran/File)
Israel's Consul General in New York Asaf Zamir speaks at a JNF-USA event on October 28, 2021. (Shahar Azran/File)

Israel’s Consul General in New York expressed his “deep concern” on Thursday over the direction the country is heading, in rare criticism from a sitting diplomat regarding government policy and a further indication of the extent of widespread discomfort with the hardline coalition’s effort to overhaul the judiciary.

“I’m deeply concerned [about] the direction the country is going in right now,” Asaf Zamir said in remarks at the ANU Museum — Museum of the Jewish People’s annual fundraising gala dinner. “If you want to have a national home and you want it to be everyone’s home, it really must be democratic.”

A clip of Zamir’s speech at the private event was first published by the Walla news site on Friday.

The chair of the board at the ANU Museum is Irina Nevzlin, the wife of Likud MK Yuli Edelstein, who has criticized the coalition over its relentless push to radically overhaul the judiciary. It was unclear if Nevzlin was present at the New York event.

Zamir has been serving in New York since August 2021 after being appointed to the position by then-foreign minister Yair Lapid. Zamir had spent almost a decade in politics at that point, mostly as deputy mayor of Tel Aviv, but he joined Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in 2019 and went on to serve as tourism minister during a short-lived government led by Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

He resigned as minister in 2020 in protest of Netanyahu’s government and the coalition fell apart shortly thereafter, leading to another short-lived unity government led by Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Lapid.

Zamir has stayed on in New York since that government fell last June, as other diplomats appointed by Lapid — Yael German in France and Ronen Hoffman in Canada — resigned in protest of the Netanyahu coalition’s policies.

The New York consul general’s comments Thursday indicated Zamir may be heading in that direction.

“We have very dramatic periods in our lives and the thing about dramatic periods is that you don’t always know that you’re in them when they’re happening. And I kind of feel like right now we’re in a very dramatic period,” he told hundreds of museum donors at the gala dinner.

“I’ve been in New York explaining Israel, representing Israel for the last 18 months. Sometimes it’s things that I agree with, and sometimes it’s things that I don’t agree with. That’s part of being a diplomat. It’s part of being an Israeli. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s harder,” he said before indicating that the job has become much harder for him to carry out “over the last few weeks.”

Additional Lapid political appointees abroad include Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog, Ambassador to the UAE Amir Hayek, Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor and Ambassador to Angola Shimon Solomon. None of them has offered any public indication that they plan to resign. They were each given three-year contracts, and it is rare for a new government to recall an envoy appointed by a previous government.

Despite over two months of mass protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plans and stark warnings from business, military, legal and financial officials in Israel and around the world, the coalition has not paused or slowed down its legislative push.

The legislation currently being blitzed through the Knesset would give the government and coalition complete control over the selection of all judges in Israel; bar the High Court of Justice from reviewing Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws; severely restrict the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws deemed incompatible with those Basic Laws; and allow the Knesset to pass laws which are preemptively immune from judicial review by the High Court from the outset.

Critics say it marks a revolutionary change in Israel’s governance, essentially removing the ability of the High Court to act as a check on the Knesset and the governing coalition. This could move Israel from a liberal democracy to another system of governance, experts warn.

Supporters say the judiciary has gained far too much power over the past several decades and the government’s proposals will restore the balance of power between the branches of government.

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