U.S. President Joe Biden weighed in on Tuesday regarding the political crisis in Israel around a controversial overhaul to the judiciary system, pushed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Biden said the Jewish state “cannot continue down this road.”
“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I'm very concerned. I'm concerned that they get this straight,” Biden told reporters, referring to the current tensions. “They cannot continue down this road. I've sort of made that clear,” he added.
Biden commented on the talks between the Israeli coalition and the opposition which kicked off on Tuesday, expressing hope that Netanyahu will try to work out a “genuine compromise”. He added, “but that remains to be seen.”
The New York Times reported on Tuesday, in the 48 hours that preceded Netanyahu’s announcement, that he was expected to put a halt on the legislation in order to engage in talks with the opposition, in response to pressure from Washington.
Biden and his advisors “bombarded the Israeli government with warnings that the country’s image as the sole democracy in the Middle East was at stake,” according to the Times.
The U.S. president has not invited Netanyahu to visit the White House since his re-election in early November. When asked if such an invitation could be expected, Biden replied: “No, not in the near term.”
This contradicts an earlier statement by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, who said Netanyahu could get the invitation “relatively soon,” probably after the Passover holiday in early April.
In response to the president’s remarks, Netanyahu issued a statement, saying: “I have known President Biden for over 40 years and I appreciate his years-long commitment to Israel. The alliance between Israel and the United States is strong, and it always overcomes disagreements that emerge between us once in a while.”
“My government is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the appropriate balance between the three branches (of government), which we hope to achieve through a broad consensus,” he continued. “Israel is a sovereign state that makes its decisions based on the will of its citizens and not according to outside pressures, including from our best friends.”
Israel’s Minister of Culture and Sport of Israel, Miki Zohar, said: “It is sad that President Biden has bought into the widespread fake news in Israel against our just judicial reform.”
Minister of Diaspora Affairs Amichai Chikli wrote on Twitter: “Israel is a sovereign country. Criticism is gladly accepted, but the ones who determine who leads the country, and in which direction, are solely the people, through their representatives – just like in America.”
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz, who is leading the dialogue with Netanyahu’s government on behalf of the opposition, wrote: “President Biden gave an urgent wake-up call to the Israeli government. Harming the relations with the United States, our best and most valuable ally – is a strategic sabotage. The prime minister must guide his judicial reform negotiating teams to act swiftly to amend the situation and maintain Israel’s democratic values.”
Gantz has also called on Netanyahu to reinstate his sacked defense minister, Yoav Gallant, to his position. Gallant was fired on Sunday after he called on Netanyahu to pause his reform plans, in light of the concerning phenomenon of Israel Defense Forces reservists saying they would refuse to show up for training.
Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.