US lauds pause on judicial overhaul, blasts bills Netanyahu has been seeking to pass
Biden administration reiterates call for parties to strike compromise, as PM slated to address State Department confab on democracy to which Hungary and Turkey didn’t get an invite
Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief
The Biden administration welcomed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement on Monday that his government would be temporarily halting its legislative effort to overhaul the judiciary and urged Israeli political leaders to pass a compromise that will safeguard Israel’s democratic foundations.
“We welcome this announcement as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said at a press briefing. “A compromise is precisely what we have been calling for.”
“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” she added.
In candid remarks earlier in the day, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the legislation that Netanyahu’s coalition has been advancing “flies in the face of the whole idea of checks and balances.”
For the past three months, the US has been expressing its concern over the government’s judicial overhaul effort in both public and private forums. US President Joe Biden phoned Netanyahu last week to further emphasize that worry. Concern peaked on Sunday when Netanyahu announced the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant after the latter called for a halt to the overhaul, warning that protests against it were leading to a breakdown in the IDF’s operational capacity.
After immense public pressure that has seen 12 weeks of massive demonstrations, and, on Monday, the announcement of general strikes by the country’s top labor federation and local councils, Netanyahu said he was allowing for “a delay” to provide “ a real opportunity for real dialogue,” but stressed that “either way,” a reform would be passed to “restore the balance” that he said had been lost between the branches of government in Israel.
The premier indicated the “time out” would last until the beginning of the Knesset’s summer session, which starts April 30.
US Senators Chris Murphy and Mitt Romney issued a joint, bipartisan statement expressing their support for Netanyahu’s announcement.
“Shared democratic values have long underpinned the US-Israel relationship, and we hope this delay provides an opportunity to work towards a compromise and de-escalation of the current crisis,” the senators said.
The House Foreign Affairs Committee’s top Democrat Greg Meeks gave a similar statement, adding that “Israel faces enormous national security challenges and it must remain focused and united. It can ill afford the self-inflicted wounds we have watched unfold in recent days.”
Mainstream US Jewish organizations, who are generally careful about weighing in on internal Israeli matters but have been speaking out increasingly as of late, issued a joint statement lauding Netanyahu’s decision.
“The last three months have been painful to watch and yet a textbook case of democracy in action. We respect the political leaders, business executives, community activists, cultural figures, and ordinary Israelis who took to the streets, exercising their love of country, and their passion for democracy,” read the joint statement from the Conference of Presidents, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North America and the American Jewish Committee.
“As a next step, we encourage all Knesset factions, coalition and opposition alike, to use this time to build a consensus that includes the broad support of Israeli civil society. Israel’s political leaders must insist on a more respectful tone and debate. A hallmark of democracy is public consensus and mutual consideration,” the groups added. “We are confident the resilience of Israeli democracy will successfully overcome the tremendous challenges it faces.”
Also welcoming the speech on Monday was UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, who said in a statement, “It is vital that the shared democratic values that underpin the relationship are upheld and a robust system of checks and balances are upheld.”
“We urge all parties to find common ground and seek a long-term compromise to this sensitive issue.”
Later this week, Netanyahu is slated to make a virtual appearance at the US State Department’s Democracy Summit, two US officials told The Times of Israel.
Israel is one of the roughly 120 countries invited to participate in the three-day confab that begins on Tuesday. Netanyahu is to send a pre-recorded speech and participate in a panel on the economic benefits of democratic rule, a US official said, confirming a report in the Haaretz daily.
The invitations were sent months ago, but Kirby was peppered with questions at a briefing earlier Monday about whether the US would be barring Netanyahu’s participation, given his government’s efforts to politicize and radically constrain the judiciary.
Kirby said he did not have anything to share on the matter.
While Democratic-backsliding counties like Turkey and Hungary did not receive invitations, the Democratic Republic of Congo and India did and will have representatives appearing alongside Netanyahu.
State Department spokesman Vedant Patel confirmed that Israel is an invitee to the summit, as it was last year, and said the administration would have more information on the confab in the coming days.
Netanyahu’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.