U.S. Officials, Lawmakers Respond to Netanyahu’s Pause on Judicial Reform

By Matis Glenn

Left, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby speaks during a press briefing at the White House. Right, President Joe Biden Biden, Right(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky/ Susan Walsh)

After Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced Monday that his coalition government would halt progress in passing judicial reform legislation, President Joe Biden, U.S. officials and lawmakers expressed their reactions.

Biden reiterated his feelings about the reforms on Tuesday, telling reporters that he is “very concerned,” and cautioned Israel that “they cannot continue down this road.”

The President did not appear content with the pause, and asked Netanyahu to walk back the legislation that has already passed. When asked if Netanyahu would be invited to the White House, Biden responded that he would not be “in the near term.”

The remarks caused a stir in Israel, where Netanyahu released a statement saying that Israel wouldn’t make decisions based on “pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”

Vice President Kamala Harris spoke of the relationship between Israel and the U.S., but did not address Biden’s statements, the judicial reform issue, or Netanyahu’s decision. “We have a long and enduring relationship, the US and Israel, based on a number of factors that include an intertwined history,” Harris said Tuesday. “but also that relate to shared principles in terms of the importance of democracy, and we will continue to work on strengthening our relationship based on that – a commitment to democracies and of course, an intertwined and shared history.”

“There’s a lot to like about it,” National Security Advisor John Kirby said of Netanyahu’s Monday speech.

“Netanyahu in responding to the White House called to find a compromise…He said he knows how unshakable the friendship between the United States and Israel is and he talked about his great respect for President Biden…The great thing about a deep friendship is that you can be that candid with one another,” he said.

“Israel is a sovereign state,” he said in response to a question as to the U.S.’s role in mingling in the internal affairs of a foreign country. “Our whole point is that we would like to see decisions made in better keeping with consensus, which is a key component of democracy and Israel is a democracy and one of the values we share,” he continued.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy issued a statement Thursday in support of Netanyahu.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot, statesman, and most importantly, a great friend of the United States of America,” McCarthy said in a statement. “Free societies have vigorous and open debate. Israel is no exception. I support Prime Minister Netanyahu, and America’s support for Israel’s strong, vibrant democracy is unwavering. Now is an important time for Americans to stand together in support of our long, mutually respectful, and important friendship with Israel.”

U.S. Senators Chris Murphy(D-CT) and Mitt Romney(R-Utah) issued a joint statement supporting Netanyahu’s decision. “As bipartisan members of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee who care deeply about Israel, we welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to postpone consideration of judicial reforms. Shared democratic values have long underpinned the US-Israel relationship, and we hope this delay provides an opportunity to work towards a compromise and de-escalation of the current crisis,” they said.

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Illinois-10), who along with 16 Jewish House Democrats denounced the reforms in a letter earlier this month, said Tuesday that “Netanyahu’s announced pause of legislation to reform Israel’s judiciary is a promising and welcome step that hopefully will create space for all parties to come together and find common ground,” according to the Jerusalem Post.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, known for being pro-Israel, expressed worries Monday that the reforms – which he stressed were “up to them” – had an effect of “weakening the security apparatus,” according to Jewish Insider.

Graham was supportive of Netanyahu’s decision. “I am glad Bibi wanted to try to find a compromise and take the time out… Their security has been affected by all this domestic drama,” Graham said, adding that “what I am worried about is Iran. And as we get into all these arguments in our backyard, that we’re giving oxygen and space for bad guys to do bad things.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) echoed Graham’s sentiment about security, but declined to speak about the reforms directly.

“The military people are refusing to show up to work and stuff — that’s concerning,” he told Jewish Insider. “I think it encourages Israel’s adversaries to potentially strike against them.”

Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) criticized the Biden administration’s statements. “It has been deeply disappointing to see the White House undermining the nation of Israel and in particular, undermining the democratically elected leadership of Israel in Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Cruz said Monday.

Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA),who had praised Netanyahu last month, telling Jewish Insider that she was “extremely impressed with his willingness to kind of grapple with us at some of the toughest issues that Israel’s facing,” said Tuesday that the reforms are a threat to Israeli democracy. “The potential erosion of democratic principles, including an independent judiciary, should be of concern to Americans. We have to hold Israel, and we want Israel to hold us, to our shared values of democracy and human rights.”

Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and 2024 presidential hopeful Nikki Haley criticized Biden on social media. “It’s outrageous for Joe Biden to lecture Israel on a matter that is entirely their domestic concern,” she wrote. “We would never want the Israeli government to push America on issues surrounding our Supreme Court, and they wouldn’t do it.

“We should let Israelis decide this themselves.”

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