President Joe Biden on Sunday counseled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel against rushing legislation on a judicial overhaul package that has led to massive protests in his country.
“From the perspective of Israel’s friends in the United States, it looks like the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less,” Biden told Netanyahu, according to Axios. “Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this — the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus.”
A State Department official echoed the president’s call for consensus. “We believe that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of support,” the official said in a statement Sunday.
Netanyahu and his allies have resurrected the legislation after shelving it in the spring amid similarly intense protests.
A vote on part of the package is expected Monday even though Netanyahu remains hospitalized in Tel Aviv, having had a pacemaker implanted Sunday during an emergency procedure. Tens of thousands of Israelis were seen massing for protests against the legislation.
Biden had counseled Netanyahu along similar lines in a conversation on March 19.
“The President also underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the White House said at the time, “that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support. The President offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles.”
Later that month, Biden said Israel had gotten itself into “a difficult spot” and that he hoped Netanyahu “walks away from it.”
Netanyahu’s package of judicial changes would essentially strip his nation’s top court of its independence and defang the nation’s courts by making it possible for the government to pass legislation that can’t be reviewed by judges. Netanyahu and his backers say the legislation is necessary to curb the power of renegade judges.
Opponents of the overhaul say the legislation could undermine the democratic nature of the country by eliminating safeguards.
“It’s an attack on the very soul and nature of our democracy,” former Prime Minister Ehud Barak said in February as he urged “civil disobedience” if the legislation were to be approved.
Israel has no written constitution, so the relative powers of the branches of government are somewhat fluid.
A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to requests for comment on what type of outreach aides to Biden are engaged in with Israel during these final hours before the vote.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.