In a rare public criticism of an Israeli government’s domestic policy, US president Joe Biden has urged prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu to cancel his proposed judicial overhaul, making it clear that a White House invitation is not under consideration.
“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned. And I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road. I hope he walks away from it,” Mr Biden said. “Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen.” When asked whether Mr Netanyahu would be invited to Washington, Mr Biden replied emphatically, “No. Not in the near term.”
Such a public snub is a major embarrassment for Mr Netanyahu, who has always boasted of his strong ties with American leaders based on shared values. After winning a general election in November Mr Netanyahu spoke of an imminent White House meeting as a certainty; now it appears that such an invitation will not be forthcoming.
Mr Netanyahu responded quickly with tweets in Hebrew and English, in which he remarked on his 40-year friendship with Mr Biden and the “unbreakable” alliance between Israel and the United States, which had always overcome ”occasional disagreements”.
“My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus. 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.
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Members of Mr Netanyahu’s coalition, made up entirely of right-wing and religious parties, were more outspoken, publicly criticising Mr Biden. “Israel isn’t another star on the United States flag,’ said national security minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Strength) party.
Dan Illouz, a parliamentarian from Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party, wrote a letter to Congress saying Mr Biden had ”crossed a red line” and stressing that democratic nations should be allowed to ”define their own future”.
Opposition head Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid, noted that for decades Israel was the US’ closest ally. “The most extremist government in the country’s history has ruined that within three months,” he said.
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Meanwhile, Israeli president Yitzhak Herzog has launched his dialogue aimed at reaching a compromise between coalition and opposition parties on the judicial overhaul after Mr Netanyahu agreed earlier this week to delay the controversial legislation, which aims to weaken the judiciary.
Despite that development, some protest groups announced the struggle against what they termed the judicial coup would continue.
“Netanyahu has no scruples and is unfit to lead the country. He will move forward towards a dictatorship after the Passover holiday. We’re not falling for it. The opposition leaders do not speak for us and we call upon them to stop this so-called negotiation immediately,” they said in a statement, calling for another demonstration in Tel Aviv on Saturday.