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THE WEEK AHEAD: Israeli President Herzog goes to the White House, more protests planned as the government advances legislation of its judicial overhaul plan

Here are the stories we are watching...

Israeli President Isaac Herzog meets with U.S. President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House (Photo: Kobi Gideon/GPO)
  • Herzog in Washington

  • Judicial reform

  • Visa Waiver Program

  • Israeli media reform

  • Public sector pay raise

 

HERZOG IN WASHINGTON

Israeli President Isaac Herzog will arrive in Washington for a two-day visit this Tuesday. He will meet with U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House. Herzog will also deliver a speech to Congress to mark Israel’s 75th anniversary at 11 a.m. EST on Wednesday. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has already vowed to boycott speech. The Israeli president will then travel to New York, where he will visit the United Nations headquarters on Thursday.

Herzog’s visit comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still has not received his own invitation to the White House since reassuming office half a year ago. Biden dodged a question on whether this would eventually happen in a CNN interview. Instead, he labeled Netanyahu’s government as “extreme.”

The Israeli premier is reportedly being shunned by Biden in light of his government’s push for a judicial overhaul and over its Jewish settlement expansion policy. Biden is also seeking to secure a “mini” nuclear deal with Iran, based on a freeze-for-freeze scheme, that Netanyahu is highly opposed to. Against this backdrop, it is unlikely Netanyahu will be invited to Washington anytime soon.

JUDICIAL REFORM

Not only are anti-government protests in Israel not letting up after 27 weeks, they even seem to be intensifying. Accordingly, police response is leveling up. The past week saw another “Day of Disruption” with protesters blocking main highways, burning tires at busy junctions, gathering at Ben-Gurion International Airport and even entering the Knesset building in Jerusalem. Protest organizers have called for more “disruptions” across the state on Monday.

This week's protests came after the government passed the “Reasonableness Standard Bill” in a first reading and has set a goal to complete the legislation this week. The bill would limit the court’s current ability to strike down government legislation citing “unreasonableness” in judicial review. Reform proponents claim that judges in Israel are hanging onto arbitrary arguments of “reasonableness” to rule in a subjective manner.

This week we can expect more of the same turmoil as legislation continues to move ahead. However, calls to renew talks between the coalition and the political opposition have also renewed. After the last round of dialogue failed to reach a broad consensus, it is uncertain if the sides will convene again – and in good faith – at the president’s residence.

VISA WAIVER PROGRAM

Even though Washington and Jerusalem do not seem to be on the best of terms, there is some progress toward adding Israel to the desired U.S. Visa Waiver Program. An American delegation will arrive in the country this week to monitor a pilot program that was launched at Ben-Gurion International Airport to determine if Israel is ready to qualify. The test pilot will examine the conditions for Palestinian Arabs holding American citizenship to enter Israel. Until recently, Palestinians were not able to travel through the Israeli airport and, instead, had to enter via Jordan or Egypt.

Israel has been trying to join the U.S. Visa Waiver Program for many years, but faced multiple challenges along the way. The desired exemption would allow Israelis to travel to the United States for up to 90 days without first obtaining a visa.

ISRAELI MEDIA REFORM

Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi is expected to advance a draft bill this week that would open the Israeli TV market for more competition and result in the easing of regulations. But not everyone is happy about his initiative.

Karhi is interested in closing down the main regulatory body on commercial broadcasting in Israel, known as ‘The Second Authority for Television and Radio.’ He also plans to abolish the special authorization requirement for broadcasting the news. In addition, he may demand that VOD content by Israel’s public broadcaster Kan 11 – fully funded by taxpayer money – should be available for no charge for all. These suggested measures, if materialized, could open the door for more Israeli news channels and increase the diversity of opinions during the Israeli primetime broadcasts.

PUBLIC SECTOR PAY RAISE

At a time of inflation, when many in Israel are struggling to make ends meet, a new framework agreement will result in an increase in the wages of public sector employees. The draft agreement is expected to be finalized and signed by Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Israeli labor unions on Monday. It will ultimately result in an average salary increase of 11%, to be stretched gradually until the year 2027.

This week we are also keeping an eye on these developing stories:

  • … Will Biden “inevitably” reassess the U.S.-Israel relationship?

  • … Why was Biden's Iran envoy Rob Malley suspended and placed on ‘leave without pay’?

  • … More ancient mosaics of biblical Samson uncovered by American archaeologists in Israel

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

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