House of Representatives Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries said in Jerusalem on Monday that the US must not let the fate of Israel’s judicial overhaul affect military support for Israel.
In a conversation with Israeli journalists, the Brooklyn Democrat spoke of “the need to make sure that we maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge, that it will still be with us regardless of where Israel lands in terms of the judicial reform effort.”
US President Joe Biden, a fellow Democrat, has been vocal about his opposition to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushing through changes to Israel’s judicial system without broad support. The White House publicly expressed its dismay over the passing of the first major piece of legislation in July.
According to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, Biden believes that passing the full slate of planned measures would undermine the democratic values shared by both countries and put their special relationship at risk.
Jeffries framed the domestic fight in Israel in more moderate terms, arguing that both countries share similar challenges regarding the nature of their democracies.
“The ties that bind us together in the context of democracy are powerful ones,” said Jeffries. “It is important during a time at which both of our countries are facing concerns that the fabric of our democracies are being undermined, that we both emerge from this period of time with democracy strengthened, not weakened.”
He added that the protests are “a sign of a vibrant democracy.”
Opponents of the judicial shakeup have protested throughout the country for 31 straight weeks, with the largest rallies held in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Jeffries and former House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are in Israel leading a group of over 20 freshman Democratic representatives on a trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, AIPAC’s charitable arm.
Members on the far left of the Democratic House caucus recently opposed a Republican-led resolution declaring that Israel is not an apartheid state. But Jeffries said there is no danger of his party turning away from the Jewish state.
“The Democratic Party in the House of Representatives will continue to stand with Israel in lifting up the special relationship between our two countries and in support of Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people and as a Jewish democratic state,” he insisted. “Period. Full stop.”
The lawmaker also said that his party will “continue to stand behind that ironclad commitment to provide for Israel’s safety and security.”
Earlier in the day, the delegation met with Netanyahu, who reiterated his call for a credible military threat to deter Iran’s nuclear plans.
“The most important thing is to produce a credible military threat to Iran. The other thing is to use it. We don’t want a world in which Iran can threaten New York or Washington or Los Angeles or anything in between with nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told the group.
“Certainly, we’re not going to have one in which they could annihilate Israel, which they call a one-bomb country,” said Netanyahu. “It’s an abhorrent statement, but it tells you where they are. We will do everything in our power, with or without this or that agreement, to defend ourselves.”
In his conversation with the press, Jeffries said that he was unaware of any intensification of efforts by the US to reach an agreement with Iran over its nuclear program.
Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear to us that he doesn’t condone violence, no matter where it originates, and I take him at his word.
Jeffries also said that in the delegation’s conversation with Netanyahu, the issue of settler violence was raised by another member, alongside concern over a rise in Palestinian terrorism.
“[They] were both raised to get the Prime Minister’s perspective on how this issue could complicate efforts to eventually achieve peace in the region,” he explained.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear to us that he doesn’t condone violence, no matter where it originates, and I take him at his word,” said Jeffries.