newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Harris comments on ‘independent’ Israeli judiciary at otherwise jubilant embassy event

It wasn’t immediately clear if the vice president knew that Knesset member Simcha Rothman, the “architect” of judicial reform, was in the audience.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at an event celebrating Israel's 75th anniversary in Washington, D.C. on June 6, 2023. Source: YouTube.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at an event celebrating Israel's 75th anniversary in Washington, D.C. on June 6, 2023. Source: YouTube.

Amid one of the tensest periods in the U.S.-Israel relationship in recent memory, an Israeli embassy event celebrating 75 years of partnership with the United States went off almost without controversy.

U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris largely lauded the two countries’ longstanding ties in her remarks at the June 6 event, held at the private National Building Museum near the U.S. Capitol and the White House in the District’s Judiciary Square neighborhood.

“Under [U.S.] President Joe Biden and our administration, 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,” Harris said.

She looked to her right at Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Herzog and continued. “Which, as the ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and—I’ll add—an independent judiciary.”

The latter clause drew cheers inside the hall—and a rebuke from Jerusalem.

In an interview on Wednesday morning in Israel, Eli Cohen, the Israeli foreign minister, said that the U.S. vice president “would not be able to quote from a single clause from the judicial reform.”

“I don’t know if she read the bills or not,” he added. “I would guess not.”

Thomas Nides, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel, said that it speaks for itself that Harris attended a celebration of Israel’s 75th anniversary.

“I have respect for Minister Cohen, but the vice president said things that the administration says at every opportunity regarding the shared values and policies,” Nides said.

It was not immediately clear if Harris knew, as she turned to Herzog, that Simcha Rothman—chairs of the parliament’s constitution, law and justice committee and widely seen as the architect of judicial reform—was present.

Rothman was the only Knesset member who attended Tuesday’s event. The embassy issued him a last-minute invitation at the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s request, the embassy told JNS.

Having been heckled on New York streets prior to and during the Israel parade on Sunday, Rothman was approached at the event by one person, who disparaged him. (Rothman responded quietly to someone beside him.)

Rep. Nancy Pelosi (R-Calif.), the former House speaker, was also on hand, as were several other members of Congress.

More work to do on the U.S.-Israel relationship

Harris largely delivered an address that was largely a stump speech on U.S.-Israel relations. She focused on the Iron Dome, Abraham Accords, technological development partnerships and fighting antisemitism.

She also described her experience as a child in the San Francisco Bay Area, collecting donations for the Jewish National Fund. “For those of you who—I will date myself—who are old enough, you will remember those little blue boxes, which we would walk around asking people to please donate, so we could plant trees in Israel,” she said.

“Years later, as an adult, when I visited Israel for the first time, I saw the incredible results of these efforts, these collective efforts: an extraordinary country built, as the ambassador has mentioned, on ingenuity, creativity and determination,” she said.

She mentioned her husband, Doug Emhoff, and his Jewish faith several times, as he joined her on the stage.

The vice president concluded with a quote from the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot, “Ethics of the Fathers”: “It is not your duty to finish the work, but neither are you at liberty to neglect it.”

(As Biden did at a White House event last month, she mistakenly referred to the quote as coming from “the Talmud.”)

She concluded by saying there is much more work for many to do on the U.S.-Israel relationship.

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