Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu downplayed the US-Israel crisis as he insisted that “nothing could change” the “unshakable” relations between the two counties.
“Israel and the United States have had their occasional differences,” he said Wednesday, one day after President Joe Biden explained to reporters that he opposed Israel’s judicial reform program and would not invite Netanyahu to the White House in the near term.
At a US-sponsored virtual plenary on democracy, he said that “The alliance between the world’s greatest democracy and a strong proud and independent democracy Israel in the heart of the Middle East is unshakable, nothing can change that.”
“The alliance between the world’s greatest democracy and a strong proud and independent democracy Israel in the heart of the Middle East is unshakable, nothing can change that.”Benjamin Netanyahu
He defended his judicial overhaul program, as he emphasized that Israel “was, is and will always remain a proud strong and vibrant democracy as a beacon of liberty and shared prosperity in the heart of the Middle East.”
Netanyahu rejected charges by critics that his plan will transform Israel from a democracy into a dictatorship. He attempted to draw a parallel between the judicial overhaul plan and his transformation of the Israeli economy when he was the finance minister twenty years ago.
Massive protests and dire warnings
That overhaul was “met with massive protests" and dire warnings that it would wreck the economy but the opposite proved to be true, he explained.
The judicial overhaul plan has sparked an intensive debate about how to protect the country’s democracy, Netanyahu explained.
The question facing Israel is "how do we insure a proper democracy? Democracy means the will of the people as expressed by a majority and it also means the protection of civil rights and individual rights. It’s the balance between the two,” he said.
“Half the people are convinced that the will of the majority as expressed in the legislative and executive branch has been in many ways obstructed by an all-powerful judiciary that dominates them and does not let the public will be expressed.
“The other half of the people are concerned that … if any curtailment of judiciary power is enacted, this would impair and obstruct civil liberties,” Netanyahu stated.
To move forward, “both considerations have to be taken into account. Both of them are valid, and both of them are true.
“We have to make sure that as we shift the pendulum” so that the courts are transformed from an “ever powerful judiciary” to an “independent judiciary” that the need to strengthen the executive and the legislative execute in a way that protects individual rights.
Netanyahu said that he backed the suspension of the legislation on the judicial selections committee to allow for dialogue with the opposition, a move which he took only after the Histadrut [the national union] held a one-day strike that shut the country down.
There is a “historic opportunity to strengthen democracy” and restore the balance between the three branches of government, while “enshrining civil rights with an agreed national consensus,” Netanyahu said.
He said the rights of Israeli citizens to protest noting that those rights were “sacrosanct,” but that he wanted to move from protest to agreement.