US uses democracy as talking point to defend Israel, Nides says

The Biden administration explains that Israel is “a democracy in the Middle East, where there is no other,” Tom Nides said.

 US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, as seen on January 23, 2023. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, as seen on January 23, 2023.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

Israeli democracy plays a critical role for the United States in its defense of the Jewish state and is one of the foundations of the ties between the two countries, US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides told The Jerusalem Post on Monday.

“The US-Israel relationship is based upon lot of things. Democracy [and] shared values are certainly at the top of the list,” Nides said.

“The US-Israel relationship is based upon lot of things, democracy, shared values is certainly at the top of the list.”

Tom Nides

“We use those shared values to defend Israel at places like the United Nations” where it is “one of our big talking points,” adding that the Biden administration explains that Israel is “a democracy in the Middle East, where there is no other. It is very important for everyone to understand” that these shared values are “a very big part of our messaging,” Nides added.

The full interview will be in Friday’s paper.

Israel's push for judicial reforms sparks concern

The ambassador spoke as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government’s push for judicial reforms has raised concern among its Western allies about the impact the proposed overhaul would have on the country’s democracy, particularly on the status of minority rights.

 US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, as seen on January 23, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST) US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides, as seen on January 23, 2023. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

The overhaul, which would empower the legislature and weaken the independence of the judiciary, has provoked sharp criticism in Israel, with opponents warning that the proposal would spell the death of the country’s democracy.

Proponents of the change have countered that it would strengthen the government’s ability to enact the will of the people as expressed in elections.

Nides discussed the issue of democracy with the Post after a visit by US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and in advance of a trip to Israel by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The Biden administration has walked a fine line in discussing the proposed changes, preferring to emphasize the importance Israel’s democratic nature holds for them, without criticizing the reforms.

Nides said the issue of Israeli democracy is raised in all conversations between US and Israeli officials.

“I assure you that there is no [US-Israel] meeting that goes on that someone – me or Jake Sullivan – does not have this conversation, or that it does come up in some direct or indirect way,” he said.

Nides was careful to highlight the importance of democracy and the ways he believes the country exhibits those values, without actively addressing concerns regarding the new government’s adherence to that principle.

When it comes to the judicial-reform debate, he said, he has not looked at the micro issues such as how judges are chosen but rather on the larger macro ones about democracy itself.

“I do not want to be lecturing the Israeli people on democracy,” Nides said, adding that Israel is “a democracy and you are seeing it every day.”

The vibrancy of that democracy, he noted, has been highlighted in the 120,000 people who demonstrated against the reforms in Tel Aviv last Saturday night and the 80,000 people who rallied there the weekend before in the rain. Then there is the voting rate, Nides said, which is higher than in the US.

Israelis have been very articulate in the past weeks about their opinions on democracy, he said, and that debate is further proof of the free nature of the country.

“I have enormous confidence in Israel and in Israelis to stand up on their own, and express whatever position they express in a very colorful way, as seen by what is going on here in the last few weeks.”

Nides said it was premature to come to any conclusions about how the judicial-reform debate would materialize, noting, “I like to judge Israel on its actions, not on speeches and not on coalition agreements.”

When it comes to democracy, he said, the US “believes in strong democratic institutions. We believe in a strong judiciary... that is who America is, and we believe that ultimately the Israeli people also believe that.”