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Former US ambassador to Israel distances himself from Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman talk after watching a video of Israel's U.S.-backed Arrow-3 ballistic missile shield performing a series of live interception tests over Alaska, July 28 2019. (Photo: Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS)

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said he recognized the Netanyahu government’s judicial reforms as a “complicated issue” but that overriding the Supreme Court’s decisions was not his “idea of how courts should work.” 

The current judicial reforms moving toward passage in the Israeli Knesset have prompted protests from tens of thousands of Israelis over the past few months. 

During former U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, Friedman emerged as one of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s strongest supporters in the U.S. Republican Party. Friedman played an instrumental role in the administration’s decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, Jerusalem. Friedman also played a major role in implementing the historic Arab-Israeli Abraham Accords in 2020. 

However, during a recent interview organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Friedman criticized the Netanyahu government for its judicial reform that would allow the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to override decisions made by the country’s Supreme Court. 

“That to me is offensive to my idea of how courts should work,” said Friedman. 

During another recent conference organized by conservative think tanks, Friedman criticized Knesset Member Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionism Party for claiming that the judicial reforms would make the Israeli judiciary similar to the legal system in the United States.

“You compare this to the U.S., but it doesn’t work like that in our system,” said Friedman. 

The former American ambassador stressed that one main task of the U.S. courts is to protect the rights of minorities. He reportedly told Rothman that the override clause would effectively neutralize the Israeli court system from protecting minority rights. 

Despite his criticism, Friedman insisted that the debate over the reforms was respectful and friendly. 

“The tone of the conversation was not about slamming or being critical or pointing fingers, rather recognizing that this is a complicated issue,” said Friedman. 

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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