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US envoy to Jerusalem clarifies call to ‘pump the breaks’ on reform plan

Ambassador Tom Nides calls Israel a “vibrant democracy,” adding that its judicial system “probably needs reform.”

U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides speaks at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem, Feb. 15, 2023. OurCrowd/Twitter.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides speaks at the OurCrowd Global Investor Summit in Jerusalem, Feb. 15, 2023. OurCrowd/Twitter.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides clarified on Sunday his comment that the Netanyahu government needed to “pump the breaks” on its judicial reform program.

“I did no different than what President Isaac Herzog has done. I said pump the brakes, which I thought was clever. I meant, just slow down and try to build consensus,” said Nides.

“The judicial system in Israel probably needs reform. The system in the U.S. probably needs reform as well,” he added.

Nides called Israel a “vibrant democracy,” noting that more than 70% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the November election that returned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power at the head of a right/religious coalition.

Last week, Nides told former Obama administration official David Axelrod during a podcast interview that the Biden administration was demanding that Netanyahu “pump the brakes” on the judicial reforms.

“We’re telling the prime minister—as I tell my kids—‘pump the brakes, slow down, try to get a consensus, bring the parties together,’” said Nides. While the United States was not going to “dictate” to Israel how to conduct its internal affairs, the ambassador qualified that “the one thing that binds our countries together is a sense of democracy.”

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli rebuked the American envoy, telling him to “slam the breaks on yourself and mind your own business.

“You’re not the sovereign here. We’d be happy to debate with you international or security affairs, but respect our democracy,” said Chikli.

U.S. President Joe Biden also recently weighed in on the showdown taking place in Israel over the judicial reforms.

In reply to a question from New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman, Biden said that for any fundamental change to be sustainable, consensus was required.

“The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary,” he said. “Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”

Netanyahu has described as “baseless” claims by critics that the proposals would mark the end of the country’s democracy, and vowed to implement the plan “responsibly.”

“The truth is that the balance between the branches of government has been violated over the past two decades,” said Netanyahu. “This unusual phenomenon does not exist anywhere else in the world—not in the United States, not in Western Europe and not during Israel’s first 50 years of existence.”

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