I woke up Saturday morning to read the news from Israel that at least 50,000 Israelis had just demonstrated yet again against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans to strip Israel’s Supreme Court of its independence and instead place it under Netanyahu’s control – in a moment when Netanyahu himself is facing corruption allegations – and I asked myself a simple question: “What does President Joe Biden think?”
Biden is pro-Israel to the core like any other president I’ve covered. He also had a long and mutually respectful relationship with Netanyahu. So I can tell you that everything Biden has to say about Israel stems from real concern. Are you concerned that the Radical transformation of the Israeli judicial system that Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious coalition is trying to impose on the Knesset could seriously damage Israel’s democracy and thus its close ties to the United States and to democracies around the world.
Here is the statement Biden sent me Saturday afternoon when I asked for a comment: “The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both based on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary Gaining consensus to make fundamental changes it’s really important to make sure people accept them and can keep them.”
It’s the first time I remember it an American president intervenes in an internal Israeli debate on the very nature of the country’s democracy. And though it’s only 46 words, Biden’s statement comes at a pivotal moment in this harrowing internal Israeli debate and could spur and amplify already significant opposition to what Netanyahu’s opponents are calling a legal coup that would push Israel into the field. of countries that have moved away from democracy, such as Turkey, Hungary and Poland.
That’s why Biden’s 46 words are so important: First, they position him strongly in favor of the compromise approach demanded by Israeli President Isaac Herzog, and in favor of maintaining the independence of Israel’s respected judiciary. While Israel’s presidency is largely a token post, the position carries moral weight. Herzog is a good man who has tried to avert what he fears could be the gravest civil conflict ever experienced in Israeli society if such a major change in the judicial system is passed, inspired in part by a group of experienced Israeli extremists. .
Herzog pleaded with Netanyahu and his coalition to step back and organize a kind of bipartisan national dialogue that could patiently study what kinds of judicial changes might be healthy for Israel, but do it with legal experts, impartially and in a way that preserves the integrity of the judicial system that has been around for centuries, the foundation of Israel.
Unfortunately, Netanyahu snubbed the Israeli president, prompting Herzog to declare Jan. 24 on so-called judicial reform: “Israel’s democratic foundations, including the judiciary, human rights and freedoms, are sacred and we must protect them, as well as the expressed in the Declaration of Independence”. Dramatic reform, when done quickly and without negotiation, arouses opposition and deep public concern”. He added: “The absence of dialogue is tearing us apart inside, and I’m telling you loud and clear: this powder keg is about to explode. This is an emergency.”
With Biden’s 46 words, Netanyahu is now in a situation where, if he goes ahead, he will snub not only the Israeli president, but also the American president. It’s not a trivial matter. I also suspect that Biden is taking a stand on this issue in this measured but unambiguous way it will embolden other Western democratic leadersbusinessmen and US senators and representatives to do the same, which will also stimulate the opposition.
The second reason Biden’s words matter is his timing—it couldn’t be more important. As The Times of Israel reported on Saturday, the first reading of some of the most controversial aspects of Netanyahu’s judicial reform “is scheduled for Monday; a bill must pass three readings to become law, and the coalition has indicated who intends to get the legislation passed in the Knesset in April.”
Opposition leaders have called a nationwide workers’ strike on Monday and a mass demonstration in front of the Knesset to coincide with the first rounds of voting on the legislation. You can bet that more than one Israeli protester will quote Biden’s words when he takes to the streets.
Third, Biden has placed himself and the United States squarely on the side of the Israeli majority who oppose Netanyahu’s approval of his “reform” in what is increasingly It looks more like a judicial coup.
A poll released on Friday “indicated that more than 60 percent of people want the government to halt or delay its legislative efforts to drastically weaken the High Court of Justice and ensure political control over judicial appointments,” the Times of Israel reported. .
It also puts the US squarely behind Netanyahu’s Attorney General from Netanyahu’s last term, Avichai Mandelblit, the man who accused Netanyahu in 2020 of fraud, corruption and breach of trust and who denounced Netanyahu’s judicial changes as merely a covert attempt to cancel his own trial and avoid jail time.
Speaking on the Israeli television program “Uvda”, Mandelblit said that the radical changes proposed by Netanyahu in the judiciary “are not reforms” but rather “regime change”.
Since Israel has no constitution and the executive branch always controls the Knesset, Mandelblit explained, the only separation of powers – the only control of the executive branch – is the Israeli judiciary and the Supreme Court, which are independent. And what Netanyahu is proposing is that a narrow majority in the Knesset – 61 seats out of 120 – has the power to overturn any Supreme Court decision. With the narrow majority, the government could pass any law it wanted.
Netanyahu’s plan would also give the government control over the selection of judges, which has long been in the hands of an independent selection committee, and also remove independent legal advisers – the domestic legal guardians – from each ministry. They are currently appointed by the Civil Service Commission and can only be removed by the Attorney General. Netanyahu wants them to be named and loyal to each minister.
In summary, we would have a government that won 30,000 votes out of 4.7 million with full control of the Supreme Court, judicial selection and legal advisers in every ministry.
“I can’t shut up,” concluded Mandelblit. “If there is no independent judiciary, it’s over. It’s a different system of government.” The sovereign “will decide,” he added. “It will have its own prosecutors, its own legal advisers, its own judges. And if these people have a personal loyalty to you, there is no rule of law. This is a sink. We will all be swallowed up by this.”
Ultimately, what Biden has done will add credibility to the American voice in support of democracy around the world. It means that the United States raises its voice not only when China crushes democracy in Hong Kong. We speak up when we see democracy threatened everywhere. The United States has frequently criticized Israel’s human rights violations against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank. But as far as I can remember, no US president has ever spoken out against proposed changes to the democratic character of the Israeli state, because, until a few weeks ago, no one was obligated to do so.
If Biden’s message is not clear to the Netanyahu coalition, let me try to put it as simply as possible: The United States has supported Israel, militarily, diplomatically and with billions of dollars in aid since its founding, but not because it shares the same our interests. That’s not always the case. Israel has remained neutral between Ukraine and Russia, is indifferent to human rights violations in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and Israeli companies sometimes sell Chinese defense technologies to the Pentagon that are of great concern. We have given so much support to Israel since its founding because we believe in Israel share our values.
So do supporters of Israel in the United States. Whenever the United States criticizes Israel for its harsh treatment of Palestinians, Israel and its supporters in the United States are the first to remind the White House that Israel is different, not because it holds elections (so did Egypt and the Syria), but because Israel, they argue, It is the only democracy in the Middle East., with strong democratic institutions, and the only country with an independent judiciary and a free press. Therefore, if Israel commits human rights abuses against Palestinians in the context of an ongoing war, it often tells us that we should be more lenient.
With his 46 words, Biden is telling Israel that our relationship has never really been based on shared interests. It has always been built on our shared values. That’s why it lasted so long, even when we have different interests. By his simple statement, Biden is signaling that whatever Israel does, it must not deviate from those shared values. Otherwise, we will be in a whole new world.
c.2023 The New York Times Society
Mary Ortiz is a seasoned journalist with a passion for world events. As a writer for News Rebeat, she brings a fresh perspective to the latest global happenings and provides in-depth coverage that offers a deeper understanding of the world around us.