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update deskU.S.-Israel Relations

Biden calls to slow down judicial reform, seek consensus

The U.S. president expressed support for the left-wing demonstrations in Israel.

Israelis block the Ayalon Highway during a protest in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Israelis block the Ayalon Highway during a protest in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

U.S. President Joe Biden called for Israeli leaders to slow down on proposed judicial reform legislation and seek a broad consensus.

Biden made the comments to New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, who was reportedly called to the White House on Tuesday after Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s visit there. 

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times after receiving an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. June 3, 2007. Photo by Rebecca Zeffert/Flash90.

“Finding consensus on controversial areas of policy means taking the time you need. For significant changes, that’s essential. So my recommendation to Israeli leaders is not to rush. I believe the best outcome is to continue to seek the broadest possible consensus here,” Biden told Friedman.

The U.S. president also praised the left-wing mass demonstrations that have roiled Israeli society for months.

“This is obviously an area about which Israelis have strong views, including in an enduring protest movement that is demonstrating the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy, which must remain the core of our bilateral relationship,” Biden said.

Israelis protest in Tel Aviv against the government’s judicial reform program, July 18, 2023. Photo by Miriam Alster/Flash90.

Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone on Monday for the first time in months, with the U.S. president inviting him for an official meeting. Channel 12, citing a senior political source, said that the comments made to Friedman about judicial reform did not come up in the conversation with Netanyahu and that the program was not a major focus of their conversation.

Herzog told reporters that he and the president discussed “many issues” during the meeting, including the “Iranian nuclear threat.”

“Naturally we also discussed the internal issues in Israel,” Herzog said. “We should see the current debate in Israel with all its facets as a tribute to the strength of the Israeli democracy.”

During public comments made in the Oval Office, Biden pledged that Iran would never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. “America’s commitment to Israel is firm and ironclad,” he declared.

“As I often have often said, ‘If there wasn’t an Israel, we’d have to make one.’ Seventy-five years, it’s hard to believe,” Biden told Herzog.

“There are some enemies who think we have some differences shaking our ironclad bond,” Herzog responded. “If they knew how our security cooperation has grown in recent years and reached new heights, they wouldn’t think that way.”

He added that his “heart is in Israel,” as protests over the Netanyahu government’s judicial reform effort rock the country.

“This shows something about Israeli democracy, that it is strong. I believe that there is always a need to find consensus,” Herzog said.

Friedman has harshly criticized Netanyahu and Israeli policies over the years, continuously warning that the Jewish state is on the precipice of losing its democratic character.

Earlier this month, the columnist claimed that a reassessment by the United States of ties with the Jewish state is “inevitable” due to supposed “radical behavior” by the Israeli government.

The U.S. State Department refuted this assertion, with spokesman Matthew Miller saying: “No, there’s been no talk of any kind of formal reassessment. The United States and Israel share a special bond, and our enduring commitment to Israel’s security is ironclad.”

An Israel official also said that Jerusalem was “unaware” of any such decision. Israeli leaders in Netanyahu’s coalition slammed Friedman’s article.

“Thomas Friedman is one of the most obsessed anti-Netanyahu journalists in the world,” Likud lawmaker Dan Illouz noted on Twitter. “He has been claiming for decades that Netanyahu is destroying [our] relations with the United States, even though Netanyahu’s special relation with the United States brought the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and [gave us] the Abraham Accords.

“Even if there is currently tension between Washington and Jerusalem, the alliance between the countries is very strong and cannot be questioned,” Illouz said.

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