It’s up to Israel to decide what to do about judicial reform, US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said on Monday, hours after video leaked of Justice Minister Yariv Levin accusing the Biden administration of aiding Israeli protesters against the coalition’s judicial reform plan.
Washington “is working in cooperation with them on this, as you can see from the things said by the people in the government there,” Levin told haredi political operatives, in a video first published by Walla! News on Monday.
Levin said “there is no doubt that we are at a truly incomprehensible disadvantage” in promoting the reforms. “They have the courts, the attorney general, all of the heads of the economy, the US government… total control of journalism, of the websites Ynet, Walla, Israel Hayom.”
Asked during his visit to the Knesset his opinion of the Biden administration’s interventions relating to the judicial plan, McCarthy said: “Israel is their own nation. They can decide what they want to do, but democracy wants checks and balances and separation of powers.
“In all our conversations, I think everyone agrees some form of reform is needed,” McCarthy added. “We have to leave it up to your country to figure [it] out.”
Referring to the unusually long and unwieldy process he underwent to become speaker of the House, McCarthy said that “democracy sometimes looks rough – I don’t know if you watched my speaker’s race – but it turns out well. That’s the difference with countries that don’t have democracies.”
US President Joe Biden has repeatedly expressed concerns when asked about Jerusalem’s judicial reform plan.“They cannot continue down this road,” he said last month, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put the legislative process on the reform on hold. Asked if he would invite Netanyahu to the White House, Biden said no, implying that his opposition to the reform is behind his continued refusal to invite the prime minister.
US Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the leading Democrat in McCarthy’s delegation, defended Biden, saying that “friends give friends advice and council.
“I recall Netanyahu coming to Congress giving us advice on policy,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s 2015 speech opposing the Iran nuclear deal.
“Ultimately, Israelis will have to make their decision. President [Isaac Herzog] convened a forum to discuss the differences… You have to sit down with people of different views to try to bring them together, to bring consensus. It is my understanding that is the process that is going on now,” Hoyer stated.
The State Department has given over $38,000 since 2020 to the Movement for Quality Government, one of the leading groups in protests against Netanyahu in recent years, including this year’s round of demonstrations opposing judicial reform. The funding was first reported by The Washington Free Beacon, which quoted the State Department as saying the group is nonpartisan and that the funding was “focused on teaching civic education and supporting good governance.” The US government was the NGO’s only foreign funder.Part of the funding was given to MQG while they were involved in protests outside the Prime Minister's Residence, calling Netanyahu to resign. The contributions ended in September 2022, before the judicial reform proposal came to light.
Asked if he thinks that is an appropriate use of State Department funds, McCarthy said no and “I don’t think the State Department should play politics,” but also said he is not familiar with the matter.
Remarks are dangerous
National Unity leader Benny Gantz said Levin’s remarks are “dangerous” and that “Israel has only one United States” and would not survive without that alliance.
Levin also clarified in the leaked videos that he thinks all of the elements opposing judicial reform believe in their cause, not that there is someone else standing behind them. The justice minister said he had no doubt that even “if we would have had a perfect campaign [explaining the reform], there is no chance that we would have reached a different situation. The other side has an arsenal of amazing tools whose power was exposed in this event like never before. It is incredibly well-funded.
”He also blamed Likud MKs for not supporting the reform and called for the party to be more united. The opposition is not willing to compromise by one comma,” Levin added, but said that “it’s better to try to see this process through – it will be better for everyone.”
Eliav Breuer contributed to this report.