Netanyahu risks ‘breaking something’ permanently with US relationship, Biden warns

“To make sure that Biden’s position is crystal clear to all Israelis, he invited me to the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon and gave me a statement,” Thomas Friedman wrote, reporting on the president’s demand for an end to the judicial reform.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

President Joe Biden sent a warning to Israel through the media Wednesday, telling the New York Times’ Thomas Friedman that if judicial reform is not passed with a wide consensus, there is a risk to the allies’ relationship.

“You are going to break something with Israel’s democracy and with your relationship with America’s democracy, and you may never be able to get it back,” Biden said in a message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu through Friedman.

If Biden meant to pressure Netanyahu, he apparently had an ally in Friedman and made sure to take advantage of it.

“To make sure that Biden’s position is crystal clear to all Israelis, he invited me to the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon and gave me a statement,” Friedman wrote.

“Finding consensus on controversial areas of policy means taking the time you need. For significant changes, that’s essential. So my recommendation to Israeli leaders is not to rush. I believe the best outcome is to continue to seek the broadest possible consensus here,” Friedman quoted the president as saying.

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According to Biden, it is the “enduring protest movement” against the reform that is “demonstrating the vibrancy of Israel’s democracy,” which, he said, “must remain the core of our bilateral relationship.”

Speaking of Israeli democracy, neither Friedman nor Biden noted that a majority of the country’s electorate freely elected a right-wing government that had campaigned partially on the promise of judicial reform.

Friedman directly dismissed this fact, writing that while “many Israelis support Netanyahu’s effort,” the “polls – and the relative size of demonstrations — indicate that a clear majority oppose it.”

Friedman interpreted Biden’s words as “walking a tightrope,” in “trying to be respectful of Israel’s right to choose its own path without its American ally intervening in an internal matter… while making clear his concern… that this may be a fateful moment in Israel’s history for its internal cohesion, as well as for its future relations with America.”

Netanyahu “has attempted to confuse Israel’s friends in America by playing down the importance of the fundamental change,” he wrote, referring to the ‘reasonableness’ clause. “Netanyahu seems to be moving ahead decisively with his power grab to free himself and his government from controls of the Supreme Court before the Knesset adjourns for the summer at the end of July.”

Friedman’s opinion piece is apparently a continuation of his column last week in which he said that a breakdown of the U.S.-Israel relationship is “inevitable” due to the “unprecedented radical behavior — under the cloak of judicial ‘reform’ — that is undermining our shared interests with Israel, our shared values.”

Several members of the Israeli coalition slammed Friedman, saying that disagreements between the U.S. and Israel have not destroyed the relationship. Likud MK Dan Illouz described Friedman as “one of the most obsessed anti-Netanyahu journalists in the world.”

Friedman portrayed Biden’s concern as deep, since he spoke with him for “an hour and a quarter” on the subject. However, citing a senior political source, Channel 12 reported that judicial reform was barely touched upon when Biden spoke to Netanyahu on the phone Monday.