US President Joe Biden spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday to express “concern” over the planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system, and called for compromise, after widespread protests have rocked Israel.
Netanyahu’s government seeks to pass a sweeping plan to curtail the judiciary and claim unprecedented power for politicians by removing the ability of Israel’s supreme court to act as a check on the Knesset.
Critics say the reform could transform Israel from a liberal democracy, based on a system of checks and balances, to an authoritarian state.
The White House said in a statement that Biden “underscored his belief that democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the US-Israel relationship, that democratic societies are strengthened by genuine checks and balances, and that fundamental changes should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support.”
“The President offered support for efforts underway to forge a compromise on proposed judicial reforms consistent with those core principles,” the statement added.
There are no signs that Netanyahu will backtrack on this proposed reform which was announced in January, with the prime minister’s office writing on Twitter, that Israel will “remain a strong and vibrant democracy”.
Netanyahu said on Sunday that the legal changes would be carried out responsibly while protecting the basic rights of all Israelis, and the overhaul is aimed at correcting an imbalance which has given the courts too much power and prevented politicians from carrying out the public’s will.
Tens of thousands of people have been protesting in Israel every week for the last two months, with the country’s military joining in in the movement against the proposed reform; many reservists have promised not to show up for duty, under what they see as impending regime change.
Starting on Sunday, more than 700 officers from the Air Force, special forces and Mossad said they would refuse to serve, a move that demonstrates how the plans have divided Israel.
It comes as the Israeli Foreign Ministry summoned the country’s top diplomat in New York, Asaf Zamir, after he criticised the reforms at The Jewish Museum’s annual fundraising gala.
He said: “I’m deeply concerned about the direction the country is going in right now. If you want to have the national home and to be everyone’s home, it really must be democratic”.