U.S. Softens Tone after Israel Pauses Judicial Reform Plan

March 28, 2023

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delayed a planned overhaul of Israel’s judicial system “out of a desire to prevent a rift in the nation.”

On Tuesday after the announced pause, U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides suggested on Israeli radio a White House visit by Netanyahu was imminent.

Nides surmised that the visit would likely happen “after Passover.” Over the weekend officials in Netanyahu’s ruling party, Likud, suggested to Israeli media that the judicial reforms might be frozen until after the Passover holiday and parliamentary recess next month. 

Protests have raged across Israel for months, skyrocketing into the largest demonstrations the country has ever experienced, in response to the Likud party’s judicial reform plans. On Monday the protests threatened to bring Israel to a stand-still as the country’s largest labor union called for a general strike along with universities, hospitals, malls and Israel’s national air carrier, El Al. 

The escalation had been sparked on Sunday when Netanyahu’s office announced the dismissal of Israel’s Defense Minister Yoav Gallant who had opposed the judicial reform.

On Monday the labor union called off the general strike following Netanyahu’s announced pause in the judicial overhaul plan. However, the Israeli Prime Minister’s speech was met with suspicion by many in the opposition, given Netanyahu’s past history of breaking promises.

Netanyahu had pledged sweeping reforms to Israel’s judicial system when he was sworn in for his sixth term in December. His government has been pushing to limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to rule against the legislative and executive branch. Netanyahu’s government coalition also wants more say in appointing judges. 

Technically, Netanyahu himself has been barred from involvement in the reform initiative because he’s on trial for corruption charges that he denies. He has backed the reforms, though, saying that they would boost business and strengthen Israel’s democracy by stopping court overreach.

In his speech Monday Netanyahu took aim at his opponents, including army reservists who said they would not serve under what they called an authoritarian government.

At the White House, national security spokesperson John Kirby said Monday that President Biden wants to see a “compromise” between Israel’s Prime Minister and his opponents. 

Kirby declined to say whether Netanyahu would still participate virtually in the Biden Administration’s Summit for Democracy conference this week.

PHOTO: February 13, 2023

Source: Oren Rozen

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