Foreign Minister Eli Cohen criticized US Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday, a day after she said Israel’s democracy requires “an independent judiciary.”
“If you ask her what troubles her about the reform, she may not be able to cite even one clause that bothers her,” he told KAN News.
“I don’t know whether she read the bill,” he added. “I imagine she has not.”
Kamla Harris: Israeli judiciary must remain independent
Harris made the comments at a reception celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding, which was hosted by the Israeli Embassy in Washington.
“Under President Joe Biden and our administration, America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the US-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies... as [Israeli Ambassador Michael Herzog] has said, [they] are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances and, I’ll add, an independent judiciary,” she said.
There were whoops and cheers among the 2,000 or so attendees, among them many Jewish Democrats and leaders of Jewish organizations who have criticized the planned reforms.
Harris reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”
Harris is a “strong supporter of Israel,” US Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides told the N12 news site after Cohen criticized Harris.
“I have respect for Cohen, but the vice president said things the administration says on every opportunity regarding our shared values and policies,” he said.
Later on Wednesday, Cohen said he has “great respect for Kamala Harris,” but the judicial reform is an “internal Israeli issue that is in its negotiation stage.”
“The State of Israel will continue to be democratic and liberal, as it has always been,” Cohen wrote on Twitter.
In her speech, Harris also referred to the Biden administration’s recently unveiled strategy to combat antisemitism, the product of a task force led by her Jewish husband, Douglas Emhoff, who also attended the Israeli Embassy gala.
“When Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred, that is antisemitism, and that is unacceptable,” she said to applause.
Before Harris spoke, President Isaac Herzog told the crowd in a video message that he planned to visit the White House and address a joint session of Congress “in the near future.” The trip is expected in July.
Biden has yet to extend a White House invitation to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite Israel’s status as a key Middle East ally.
Israel's judicial reform causes tension with United States
Weeks of unprecedented street demonstrations followed Netanyahu’s proposed package of reforms to the Supreme Court, which members of his coalition accuse of overreach and elitism.
Under pressure at home and abroad, including from the Biden administration, Netanyahu has delayed the overhaul to try to negotiate a consensus with the opposition parties.
Reuters and JTA contributed to this report.