UK and France voice concern after first overhaul law passes

US stresses it will not cut aid to Israel due to judicial overhaul

State Department reiterates Biden administration’s commitment to Israeli security despite tensions with Netanyahu government, White House won’t confirm Biden trusts Netanyahu

File: US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel in a briefing, 2023. (Video screenshot)
File: US State Department spokesman Vedant Patel in a briefing, 2023. (Video screenshot)

The US State Department on Tuesday stressed that the Biden administration will not cut aid to Israel in response to the Netanyahu coalition passing the first piece of its divisive judicial overhaul package into law.

The Biden administration has opposed the Israeli government’s push to diminish the judiciary, stoking tensions between Washington and Jerusalem.

“There is not going to be any cut or stoppage of military aid, and that is because our commitment to Israel and our commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad. Our decades-long partnership with Israel is ironclad,” said US State Department spokesperson Vedant Patel.

Hebrew media played up the comments, but the prospect of the US conditioning aid to Israel was never on the table to begin with. US President Joe Biden campaigned on the notion that he would not consider such a step. US officials have repeatedly reiterated this stance since Israel’s elections in November.

Patel added that the refusal to cut US aid to Israel did not take away from the administration’s opposition to the overhaul bill passed on Monday, as it did not have the broad support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly assured the US he would secure for fundamental changes to Israel’s governing system.

At a press conference on Tuesday, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre refused to state whether or not Biden felt he could trust and rely on Netanyahu.

File: US President Joe Biden meets then-opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu (right) at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, July 14, 2022. At left is Secretary of State Antony Blinken; 2nd-left is US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides. (GPO)

Asked directly if the US president feels he can “trust” the Israeli prime minister, Jean-Pierre said: “They have a longstanding relationship.  They speak candidly with each other. They just spoke last week with each other and had a — a fulsome conversation.”

The press secretary added that: “I’m not going to get into — into specifics about their relationship. I just laid out how long they’ve known each other.  And, again, they have a candid conversation to discuss their shared interest as well as their concerns. And that will continue.”

Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin emphasized to Defense Minister Yoav Gallant in a phone call that “broad consensus through political dialogue” is a “critical element of a resilient democracy.”

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (left) and Justice Minister Yariv Levin (right) argue across Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on July 24, 2023, ahead of the vote on the reasonableness law. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Biden administration has repeatedly spoken out against the government’s unilateral push to remake the judiciary; warnings against the legislative blitz and failed efforts to restart talks were placed center stage during a White House visit by President Isaac Herzog last week.

Other Israel allies also expressed concern after the bill passed into law on Monday, sparking intense protests around the country.

The UK Foreign Office issued a statement stressing that London’s ties with Jerusalem have “always been underpinned by our shared democratic values.”

“While Israel’s exact constitutional arrangements are a matter for Israelis, we urge the Israeli government to build consensus and avoid division, ensuring that a robust system of checks and balances and the independence of Israel’s judiciary are preserved,” a ministry spokesperson said in a statement.

The French Foreign Ministry stressed France’s “deep attachment to the democratic principles that have formed the basis of its friendship with Israel since its independence.”

“[France] calls on the Israeli authorities to deal with all fundamental issues related to democratic state institutions in a spirit of consensus,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Passing the law that restricts the rights of the Supreme Court by the Knesset on July 24, despite the strong voices of the protest movement, moves away from that spirit.”

Meanwhile, a European Union startup program said on Tuesday that it was pulling an upcoming delegation to Israel “in light of the government’s judicial coup.”

“Israeli startups are a major community in our ecosystem and we will continue to support their scaling in the European market,” the EU Startup Prize said in a statement. “However, [we] will no longer host events in Israel as long as the current judicial coup is not off the table.”

Security forces stand guard next to barricades as protesters gather at an entrance to the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 24, 2023 (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Despite large protests and continued mass public opposition, the Knesset on Monday ratified a law that prevents Israeli courts from reviewing the “reasonableness” of government and ministerial decisions. The bill passed its third and final reading with 64 votes in favor and 0 against, as the entire 56-member opposition boycotted the vote in protest.

Chaos erupted on the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as the bill was voted on and then long into the night with protesters blocking roads and facing off against police.

Biden made a last-ditch plea on Sunday, again urging Netanyahu not to advance such a divisive bill. After it passed, Jean-Pierre said in a statement, “As a lifelong friend of Israel, [US President Joe] Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that for major changes in a democracy to be enduring, they must have as broad a consensus as possible.”

Netanyahu had assured the Biden administration in recent months that he was working to secure broad support for the reforms his government is seeking to pass, but decided last month to move forward with the controversial legislation after negotiations with the opposition broke down.

It took until a phone call between the two last week for Biden to agree to meet with Netanyahu, following seven months of refraining from such a sit-down due to the administration’s ongoing displeasure with the judicial overhaul plans and Jerusalem’s policies in the West Bank. However, it remained unclear where and when that meeting would take place.

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