U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that democratic values were a hallmark of U.S.-Israeli ties and said he supported finding a compromise over a highly-contested judicial overhaul. Netanyahu, according to his office, assured Biden that Israel’s democracy was healthy.
Since being reelected late last year to head one of the most right-wing coalitions in Israel’s history, Netanyahu has been pursuing changes to the judiciary that would give his government greater sway on selecting judges and limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down legislation.
The plan has stirred concern for Israel‘s democratic health at home and abroad. It has triggered weeks of mass demonstrations and on Sunday hundreds of Israeli reservists in elite military and intelligence units said they were joining the protests.
Biden “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the White House said in a readout of the call. Biden spoke of the need for checks and balances and for seeking broad support when making fundamental changes.
“The president offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles,” the White House said.Netanyahu’s office said he told Biden “that Israel was, and will remain, a strong and vibrant democracy.”
Netanyahu’s Likud party later said the coalition decided to push through changes to give the government more decisive sway in selecting judges by April 2, when parliament adjourns for a month recess. The rest of the legislation, including plans to limit judicial oversight, would wait until next session.
Critics of the planned law changes say Netanyahu – on trial on graft charges that he denies – is pursuing steps that will hurt Israel’s democratic checks and balances, enable corruption and bring diplomatic isolation. Proponents say the changes are needed to curb what they deem an activist judiciary that interferes in politics.