'Frank discussions' being had in White House over Israel's judicial reform

US House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said in the Israeli Knesset that if Biden doesn't invite Netanyahu to Washington, then he will.

 PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets then-US vice-president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, in 2016. Netanyahu does not care that President Biden is displeased, says the writer.  (photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu meets then-US vice-president Joe Biden at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, in 2016. Netanyahu does not care that President Biden is displeased, says the writer.
(photo credit: AMOS BEN GERSHOM/GPO)

The White House continued to withhold its invitation from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy said he would invite the premier if US President Joe Biden does not do so.

"Israeli leaders have a long tradition of visiting Washington. President [Joe] Biden and Prime Minister Netanyahu have known each other for a long, long time. I expect the prime minister will visit at some point," US National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said in a briefing on Monday, adding that nothing had been scheduled yet.

Kirby said the US president wants Israel’s judicial reform to pass with a broad consensus and to preserve checks and balances.

“We are having frank discussions about our concerns,” Kirby stated.

Biden spoke out against the Israeli government’s judicial reform plan several times in recent months, and said, in that context, that he would not invite Netanyahu to the White House.

John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, US, February 17, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)John Kirby, National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications, answers questions during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, US, February 17, 2023. (credit: REUTERS/EVELYN HOCKSTEIN)

McCarthy said hours earlier in the Knesset that if Biden does not invite Netanyahu to Washington, then he will.

“I expect the White House to invite the prime minister for a meeting, especially with [Israel’s] 75th anniversary,” McCarthy said.

The speaker also invited President Isaac Herzog to address a joint session of Congress. He clarified that Netanyahu’s invitation would be to meet with members of Congress, not for a speech before the legislature.

Asked about negotiations to avoid meeting the debt limit, McCarthy quipped: “The president still hasn’t talked to me; I’m a little bit like Netanyahu.”

Hours later, Biden invited McCarthy and other Congressional leaders to meet and discuss the debt ceiling, but Netanyahu’s invitation was not forthcoming.

As for the judicial reform, 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…We have to leave it up to your country to figure [it] out.”

National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi said last week: "It's clear to me that if there was no judicial reform, the prime minister would have already been in the White House. Does that influence the relations? Is this kind of visit relevant? The answer is no. The relationship is as close as ever."

"There were never such intimate ties between Israel and the US in the areas of intelligence and security, as there are today. I see the American president constantly sending his senior officials here," Hanegbi said.

Democrat reps. support judicial reform

Also Monday, US Rep.s Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Jamie Raskin (D-MD) published a letter of support for "protestors defending Israeli democracy." They accused Netanyahu of having an "extreme plan to eviscerate the independence of the Israeli judiciary" and "do profound harm to Israel’s democratic institutions."

"While we confront challenges to our democracy at home, we admire the fortitude you have shown in facing down efforts to erode Israeli democracy," they wrote.

The judicial reform's defenders argue that it will enhance Israel's democracy by having Knesset members, representatives of the people, play a greater role in selecting judges, and by placing checks on the Supreme Court's uniquely broad powers.

"One thing I'll guarantee to you is that at the end of this process, Israel was a democracy, is a democracy [and] will remain as robust a democracy," Netanyahu told CNN on Sunday.

The protests are "not a sign of the collapse of democracy, it's a sign of the robustness of the public debate, which I'm working to resolve with as broad of a consensus as I can," he said.