Biden meddles in internal Israeli matters, egged on by NY Times columnist

The U.S. president stressed the importance of consensus building for “fundamental changes.” NYT columnist Thomas Friedman: If Netanyahu keeps moving ahead, he’ll be snubbing the White House.

By Menachem Wecker, JNS

U.S. President Joe Biden on Saturday weighed in on the showdown currently taking place in Israel over Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial reform plan.

In reply to a question from The New York Times‘ veteran columnist Thomas L. Friedman, Biden said that in order for any fundamental change to be sustainable, consensus was required.

“The genius of American democracy and Israeli democracy is that they are both built on strong institutions, on checks and balances, on an independent judiciary,” the statement read. “Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”

In a column that dropped on the Times’ website one minute after midnight on Sunday, Friedman interpreted that to mean that Biden was signaling to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the U.S.-Israeli relationship “has never truly rested on shared interests,” but has “always been built up from our shared values.”

Biden was suggesting, according to Friedman, that “whatever Israel does, it must not fundamentally depart from those shared values. Otherwise, we are in a totally new world.”

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Friedman referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aiming “to strip the Israeli Supreme Court of its independence” and “put it instead under Netanyahu’s thumb,” and also stated that Israel’s behavior in the West Bank and Gaza was “not consistent with [U.S.] values.”

He also called the prime minister’s coalition “ultranationalist” and “ultrareligious” and wrote that the reforms could “seriously damage Israel’s democracy and therefore its close ties to America and democracies everywhere.”

It was the first time a U.S. president had ever weighed in on an internal debate in Israel regarding something as fundamental as the nature of the country’s democracy, said Friedman. If Netanyahu “just keeps plowing ahead,” he will be snubbing the U.S. president. “That’s no small deal,” he wrote.

Wall Street Journal letters editor Elliot Kaufman tweeted in response that a snub was in order.

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee is scheduled to resume its debate over the reform on Sunday, while a vote to approve the bill for a first reading could take place as early as Monday. If the proposed legislation is approved on Monday, then it could be approved in first reading as early as Wednesday.