JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s foreign minister chided U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris on Wednesday for speaking out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned overhaul of the country’s judiciary.
The exchange underscored tensions between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s new government — the most right-wing and religious in Israel’s history — over the planned judicial overhaul.
Speaking at an Israeli Embassy event in Washington on Tuesday, Harris had said that shared values are “the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship” and that democracies are “built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and, I’ll add, an independent judiciary.”
Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, told Kan public radio “I can tell you that if you ask her what bothers her about the reform, she won’t be able to tell you”. He said he believes Harris has not read the bills in question.
Biden has publicly expressed concern over the Netanyahu government’s plan to reshape the legal system, which sparked mass protests that continue weekly even after the proposal was put on hold. Amid the tensions, Biden has not granted Netanyahu a typically customary invitation to the White House since his election in 2022.
U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides responded to Cohen saying that Harris only restated the government’s long-held position, according to Kan.
Critics say the proposed bills would concentrate power in the hands of the Israeli government by giving politicians control over appointments to the Supreme Court, providing the parliament with the authority to overturn high court decisions, and passing laws impervious to judicial review.
Cohen later wrote on Twitter that he has “great respect for our ally the United States and for Vice President Harris, a great friend of Israel,” adding that the judicial overhaul was “an internal Israeli matter” and that the country would remain “democratic and liberal as it has always been.”
While the freeze in the proposed legislation has eased tensions somewhat, Netanyahu’s allies are pushing him to move ahead with the overhaul. The talks underway between representatives of the government and opposition parties — meant to forge a path out of the crisis — have thus far proved fruitless.
Proponents of the overhaul say it is necessary to rein in what they consider an interventionist court and restore power to elected lawmakers. Opponents say it would upset Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and erode the country’s democratic institutions.
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