update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Israeli foreign minister: Harris couldn’t name one clause on judicial reform

The U.S. vice president called for an "independent judiciary" during a speech at the Israeli embassy in Washington in honor of Israel's 75th anniversary.

Kamala Harris. Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.
Kamala Harris. Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.

Israel’s foreign minister on Wednesday took issue with U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris weighing in on Israel’s judicial reform debate, saying she didn’t know a thing about it.

Harris waded into Israel’s domestic political affairs during an event at the Israeli embassy in Washington on Tuesday celebrating the Jewish state’s 75th anniversary. 

“America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies, which as the [Israeli] ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and I’ll add: an independent judiciary,” said Harris.

The vice president’s remarks drew applause from those gathered in the audience at the embassy to hear the 14-minute speech.

However, they did not go over as well in Jerusalem, with Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen telling Kan Reshet B radio in an interview on Wednesday that Harris “would not be able to quote from a single clause” in any of the judicial reform bills.

Cohen, who is in South Korea after visiting the Philippines, clarified his comments in a Twitter post shortly after the interview:

“I have deep respect for our ally the United States of America and for Vice President Harris, a true friend of Israel,” he wrote.

“Israel’s legal reform is an internal issue that is currently in the process of consolidation and dialogue. The State of Israel will continue to be democratic and liberal, as it has always been.”

The reform of Israel’s legal system initiated by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stirred a fierce debate in the country, with both sides hitting the streets for mass demonstrations.

Harris’s remarks on Tuesday were not the first time the U.S. administration has jumped into the debate.

In March, U.S. President Joe Biden called on Netanyahu to “walk away” from the initiative.

“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” said Netanyahu in response.

While Kan News reported on Tuesday that the sides were close to signing an agreement on judicial reform following a series of meetings in recent months mediated by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, National Unity Party leader Benny Gantz dismissed the report, saying that a compromise deal was not imminent.

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