For the past four months, Israel has seen a vigorous national debate on a proposed judicial reform. The reform seeks to restore balance between the three branches of government and check the virtually limitless power of the judicial branch. The High Court’s powers and position of authority have been acquired gradually and progressively, since the early 1990’s and have often stymied the government’s ability to pass laws and implement policy.
While there is wide public agreement that Israel is in need of a judicial reform, many strongly object to the specific plan initially put forward by the Justice Minister and have taken to the streets in protest. So have the supporters of the plan. This national debate is a vivid display of Israel’s vibrant democracy.
Much like the US and European countries, Israel is experiencing political, demographic and social changes. And like its American ally, France and elsewhere, Israel is dealing with these changes as a robust democracy should: with elections, debates, protests and political compromises.
US Democrats are trying to interfere with Israeli democracy
Unfortunately, US President Joe Biden and other key Democrats have taken sides in Israel’s internal debate. By doing so, they are compromising the prospects for compromise.
Biden has even made a linkage between Israel’s judicial reform and the customary invitation of a newly elected Israeli prime minister to Washington:
“He cannot continue down this road. Netanyahu won’t be invited to the White House in the near term,” Biden said recently.
This is not the first time Democrats have taken sides in Israeli politics. Former US president Bill Clinton campaigned for Shimon Peres in 1996, and then-president Barack Obama, along with the V-15 organization he backed, did everything in his power to bring down Netanyahu in 2015.
These dubious efforts boomeranged. They often do.
Close allies like the United States and Israel can and do disagree at times but such moments of discord should not lead to interference in internal politics.
The latest meddling by Democrats under the guise of concern for Israel’s democracy, is not without irony: Last week, Senate Democrats in a hearing of the Judiciary Committee before the US Congress made the case for US Supreme Court ethics reform and reduction of Supreme Court powers.
It would then seem that what Democrats see as legitimate vis-à-vis the Supreme Court of the United States, they see as illegitimate when it comes to the Netanyahu government’s right to pursue judicial reforms in Israel – a double standard.
Harvard law Prof. Alan Dershowitz, who opposes parts of the proposed reform, clarifies that “even if all of these reforms were to be enacted, it would turn Israel into Canada, New Zealand, or Australia, or many European countries. It would not turn it into Poland, or an autocratic country.”
Irony grows when looking at the main gap between the sides. It relates to the manner by which Supreme Court justices are appointed. The opposition in Israel asserts that the judges should decide who replaces or joins them on the bench, while the government is of the opinion that – like in the US (and most democracies), elected officials – the representative of the people should transparently appoint judges after public hearings are held.
On his recent visit to Israel, House Speaker and leading Republican, Kevin McCarthy said that Netanyahu’s White House invitation was overdue and “if that doesn’t happen, I’ll invite the prime minister to come meet with the House. He’s a dear friend.”
To their credit, key Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer and House Minority Leader Rep. Hakeem Jefferies, both of New York, recently led large Congressional delegations to Israel in honor of its 75th Independence Day and saw Israel’s vibrant democracy without biased filters.
Meanwhile in Congress, lawmakers like Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib, continue with their virulent antisemitic rhetoric and initiatives. This week Tlaib, from Michigan, was set to host an event to mourn Israel’s founding as a “catastrophe.” Thankfully, House Speaker McCarthy intervened to cancel that event.
Bipartisan American support for Israel is a strategic asset for the Jewish state. It is also important for America. But as Israel’s government is engaged in discussion with the opposition to reach an agreement on the course to judicial reform, the prospect of reaching a compromise worsens when there is foreign intervention.
Israelis don’t take well to such meddling – or in the words of the late Menachem Begin: “Israel is not a banana republic.”
Genuine friends of Israel should support its sovereignty and respect its vibrant democracy.
The writer is a former head of the International Counter Terrorism Institute’s office in Washington and senior analyst at Acumen Risk Ltd., a risk management firm.