The judicial reform in Israel has led not only to rallies inside the country, but also to severe criticism from the outside. Joe Biden added fuel to the fire by refusing to invite Benyamin Netanyahu to the White House. Jewish politicians responded by reminding Washington that Israel is a sovereign country and “not just another star on the US flag”.
U.S. President Joe Biden issued a stinging rebuke of Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform, CNN reported. “They cannot continue down this road. Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can work out some genuine compromise. I hope he walks away from it (judicial reform)”, the White House chief said.
“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”, Netanyahu countered. However, he later said: “There have been disagreements between Israel and the US from time to time. But I want to assure everyone that the alliance between the greatest democracy in the world and a strong, proud and independent democracy, Israel, in the heart of the Middle East, is unbreakable”.
Against this backdrop, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir spoke far more radically, the Jerusalem Post reported. “The United States needs to understand that Israel is an independent country and “not another star on the US flag,” he said. But one of Israel’s main opposition activists, Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, criticized this approach. “For decades, Israel was the USA’s closest ally, and the most extremist government in the country’s history has spoiled that in three months”, he said.
Let us recall that the judicial reform involves giving the parliamentary majority control over the selection of Supreme Court Justices (BAGATZ). Also, the Supreme Court will lose the right to cancel the Government’s decisions, which do not directly contradict the letter of the law. In addition, as a result of the reform, the opinions of the legal advisers of the government and ministries will become advisory rather than binding, and they will lose their autonomy.
Also, the reform will make it possible to override a Supreme Court veto of a law, unless the judges have decided unanimously in an expanded panel.
In February, opponents of the reform marched for days outside the Knesset in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other cities. Since then, the demonstrations have hardly subsided. Netanyahu even fired Yoav Galant, Israel’s defense chief.
Later on, the Prime Minister held consultations with his coalition partners, most of whom came out in favor of suspending the reforms. However, the chief ideologist of the reform, Minister of Justice Yariv Levin, threatened to resign if the authorities made such a decision. As a result, President Yitzhak Herzog appealed for a halt, for the sake of the unity of the people of Israel, and Netanyahu was forced to postpone it until summer.
Biden’s refusal to invite Netanyahu is quite predictable. The US Democratic Party’s dislike of the Likud party has long been well known. Does this constitute US interference in Israel’s domestic political agenda? Surely. But this is no longer a precedent, but a tradition. By the way, Barack Obama once openly warned Israelis not to vote for Netanyahu.
The important thing in this situation is that Israel is the last country in the Middle East to focus on the United States.
The penultimate country was Pakistan, which refused to attend the Summit for Democracy. And even earlier, Iran began to make peace with Saudi Arabia, which is withdrawing from Washington’s influence. In this situation, Israel is pondering where to drift. And the choice in favor of Moscow is quite real.
Consequently, the U.S. may stop communicating with Israel in a patronizing tone and start “setting it on fire”. It is possible that an influential official like Secretary of State Anthony Blinken might suggest to Biden: “Well, let’s give Netanyahu a color revolution, because the protesters have somehow gone home too quickly”.
Israel and Iran could also come to some kind of peaceful coexistence. This will happen in the next few years, not decades. Israel is a bit scared to get out from under the American influence, but it has to do it.
The situation in Israel is interdependent with the domestic political situation in the United States, where we see a very strong Jewish lobby. This lobby is split: the right wing is the neo-conservatives who support the Republican Party, and the left wing is the liberals, supporters of the Democratic Party.
The left has turned against Netanyahu. They want him to step down as prime minister and for Israel to stop being a strictly Jewish state and take the path of liberalization. They approve of Palestine. And they are trying to lobby for their agenda in the current US administration.
The right, on the other hand, supports Netanyahu, including on Palestine. But since Republicans do not rule in the White House, Netanyahu has no serious support in Washington. The opposition in Israel is well aware of this and bravely opposes the current prime minister, including through rallies.
What is remarkable is that Netanyahu has not canceled the judicial reform, but has postponed it to the summer session of the Knesset. This means that the trouble in Israel will break out with renewed vigor in July. This jeopardizes the ruling coalition. Many experts predict that the present Israeli government will fall before the end of the year.
Netanyahu, too, is aware of all the risks and is trying to attract to his side “hotheads” who have political weight in Israel. For example, so far he has succeeded with Ben-Gvir, who refused to consider our country another star on the US flag.
Nevertheless, new elections in Israel in 2024 are realistic. Then a center-left coalition could come to power, headed either by General Yoav Galant, who was fired the other day, or by ex-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett or Yair Lapid.
In this case Israel’s relations with the US could normalize, since both states would have nominal democrats in power. But there are also elections in the US in 2024. And if Trump or another Republican wins, tensions will arise again.