White House Calls Israel’s Controversial Judicial Overhaul Vote ‘Unfortunate’

Ross Muscato
By Ross Muscato
July 24, 2023Middle East
White House Calls Israel’s Controversial Judicial Overhaul Vote ‘Unfortunate’
Lawmakers surround Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) at a session of the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on July 24, 2023. (Maya Alleruzzo/AP Photo)

The White House issued a statement on July 24 saying it was disappointed that Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, voted that day to approve a highly controversial bill—backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his governing coalition—that reduces the power of its Supreme Court to challenge parliamentary decisions.

The bill is part of a broader package of judicial changes that Mr. Netanyahu and his team of lawmakers are pushing, and which have divided the Knesset down the middle, and sparked protests across the nation.

While the official vote tally shows that the provision passed 64–0, the vote was taken after about half of the Knesset chanted “shame” and then walked out. An earlier vote that day, a procedural vote, passed 64–56.

“As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Joe Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible,” said White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

“It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority.”

Mr. Biden had warned and advised Mr. Netanyahu to work on achieving a broad consensus on judicial change prior to voting.

Demonstrations have roiled the streets of Israel. Businesses have closed. Police used water cannons on protesters.

A crowd attempted to move into an off-limits area near the Knesset building before being stopped by police.

The turmoil has also resulted in a national security emergency—for large numbers of reservists in its military are participating in the protests.

While protesters represent a cross-section of society, they come largely from the country’s secular middle class, while Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters tend to be poorer, more religious, and live in West Bank settlements or outlying rural areas.

Many of his supporters are working-class Mizrahi Jews, with roots in Middle Eastern countries, and have expressed hostility toward what they say is an elitist class of Ashkenazi, or European, Jews.

Political Turmoil

Mr. Netanyahu argues that the law is needed to prevent unelected judges from holding power over elected lawmakers and thwarting the will of voters.

Critics of the law say that it weakens Israel as a democracy and provides Mr. Netanyahu with authoritarian power.

Other allies of Israel have joined the Biden administration in speaking out against the vote.

On a matter related to those accusing Mr. Netanyahu of seeking dictatorial power, the prime minister is standing trial on corruption charges, all of which he denies.

Critics contend that the efforts of the prime minister are aimed at undermining and weakening the power of the judges, which could be helpful in that a conviction and a sentence of jail time on the charges could be appealed to the country’s Supreme Court.

Adding drama to the event is that Mr. Netanyahu, 73, was on hand and in person for the vote a day after he was fitted for and received a heart pacemaker, with the procedure coming 11 days after he fainted, a spell that the prime minister attributed to being out in the hot sun and not properly hydrating.

The hospital where the pacemaker implant was performed issued a statement saying that the surgery went well, and the patient was well.

Indeed, the prime minister appeared healthy at the Knesset on July 24.

“We passed the amendment on the reason of reasonableness so that the elected government could lead the policy in accordance with the decision of the majority of the country’s citizens,” Mr. Netanyahu insisted.

“Fulfilling the will of the voter is by no means the end of democracy, it is the essence of democracy. ”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said: “It’s a sad day. This is not a victory for the coalition. This is the destruction of Israeli democracy.”

Israel has been in an almost constant state of political flux in recent years. It has held five elections that have resulted in no-confidence votes.

“We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess,” said Ms. Jean-Pierre.

“The United States will continue to support the efforts of President Isaac Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.”

Strong US Progressives Opposition

Mr. Biden faces strong pressure from Congressional members of his own party, particularly strident progressive lawmakers—among them U.S. Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilham Omar (Minn.), and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.)—to be tough with Israel for what they say is the mistreatment of Palestinians.

The three U.S. representatives were part of a group of several progressive lawmakers who boycotted a speech on July 19 that Mr. Herzog gave to a joint session of Congress.

As well, progressive members of Congress are on opposite ends politically and culturally from Mr. Netanyahu’s allies, including ultra-nationalist and ultra-religious parties that have called for increased West Bank settlement construction, annexation of the occupied territory, perpetuating military draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, and limiting the rights of LGBT people and Palestinians.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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