Israel’s embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu escalated a rare public dispute with US President Joe Biden on Tuesday, rejecting “pressure” from the White House after Biden criticized his controversial efforts to weaken the Israeli judiciary.
The back and forth thrust into public view a simmering diplomatic dispute that has mostly been kept private over the past several weeks. Biden and other US officials had sought to quietly dissuade Netanyahu from moving ahead with his proposed reforms without creating the appearance of a rift. But now the divide appears to be opening between the two men, who have known each other for decades.
Biden said on Tuesday that he won’t invite Netanyahu to the White House “in the near term,” and issued an unusually stinging rebuke of Netanyahu’s proposed judicial overhaul after mass protests and strikes brought Israel to a standstill and delayed the legislation.
This is a splainer from last Sunday that I found helpful.
Netanyahu’s government is pushing ahead for a parliamentary vote this week on a centerpiece of the overhaul — a law that would give the governing coalition the final say over all judicial appointments. It also seeks to pass laws that would grant parliament the authority to override Supreme Court decisions with a basic majority and limit judicial review of laws.
Netanyahu and his allies say the plan will restore a balance between the judicial and executive branches and rein in what they see as an interventionist court with liberal sympathies.
But critics say the constellation of laws will remove the checks and balances in Israel’s democratic system and concentrate power in the hands of the governing coalition. They also say that Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, has a conflict of interest.
Asked by reporters late Tuesday what he hopes the premier does with the legislation, Biden replied, “I hope he walks away from it.” The president added that Netanyahu’s government “cannot continue down this road” and urged compromise on the plan roiling Israel. The president also stepped around U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides’ suggestion that Netanyahu would soon be invited to the White House, saying, “No, not in the near term.”
Netanyahu replied that Israel is sovereign and “makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”
Later on Wednesday, Netanyahu struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that while “Israel and the United States have had their occasional differences,” the alliance between them was “unshakable.”