United States President Joe Biden has told Israel it “cannot continue” pushing ahead with deeply controversial judicial reforms — now on hold — that have prompted months of unrest — comments that led Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to say he does not make decisions based on pressure from abroad.
Biden’s comments on Tuesday came as Netanyahu was being accused by opponents of riding roughshod over Israeli democracy in an attempt to strengthen his own power, leading to paralysing protests and strikes across Israel.
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“Like many strong supporters of Israel I’m very concerned. … They cannot continue down this road, and I’ve sort of made that clear,” Biden told reporters during a visit to the state of North Carolina.
“Hopefully the prime minister [Netanyahu] will act in a way that he will try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen,” Biden said, adding he was not considering inviting the Israeli leader to the White House, at least “not in the near term”.
Speaking later in Washington, DC, Biden called on Netanyahu’s administration to drop the controversial judiciary law.
“I hope they walk away from it,” he told reporters.
Netanyahu quickly issued a statement in response to Biden, the Reuters news agency reported.
“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said.
Netanyahu said his administration was striving to make reforms “via broad consensus”.
“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
He said the Israel-US alliance is unbreakable “and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us”.
On Monday, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog called on Netanyahu and the ruling coalition to halt its judicial changes plan, “for the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, for the sake of responsibility”.
The appeal on Monday by the head of state, who normally does not get involved in politics, underlines the alarm that the proposals have caused and comes after a dramatic night of protests across Israel on Sunday following the sacking of the country’s defence minister.
Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across Israel in a spontaneous outburst of anger after Netanyahu fired his defence minister for challenging his judicial overhaul plan.
Fired Defence Minister Yoav Gallant had been the first senior member of the ruling Likud party to speak out against the reforms, saying the deep divisions were threatening to weaken Israel’s military.