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February 12, 2023 11:50 am

Biden Urges Consensus in Israel on Judiciary Plans as Protest Mounts

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avatar by Reuters and Algemeiner Staff

People hold a banner during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new right-wing coalition and its proposed judicial reforms to reduce powers of the Supreme Court in Tel Aviv, Israel February 11, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

US President Joe Biden has called for wide agreement to be reached in Israel on sweeping changes to the judiciary pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-right government which have sparked nationwide protests.

Israel’s parliament may on Monday begin the legislation process of the judicial overhaul, which would increase the government’s sway in selecting judges while weakening Supreme Court power to strike down laws or rule against the executive.

The push has prompted nationwide protests and calls on the government to slow down and reach a broad agreement on its judicial plan, which polls have shown has relatively little support as it presently stands.

In a response to a query by The New York Times, published on Sunday, Biden said:

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“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. Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”

Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption that he denies, has said the changes are needed in order to restore balance between the government, the Knesset and the judiciary, which some in his coalition accuse of elitism and overreaching its powers to interfere in the political sphere.

Critics say the changes would deal a fatal blow to Israel’s democracy because they would politicize the bench and undermine judicial independence, which could make corruption easier and endanger human rights and civil liberties.

Aggravating the already fiery debate on Sunday, one of the main players pushing for the changes, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, said a judiciary coup by leftists who refuse to accept the right-wing’s Nov. 1 election victory was underway, with help from Supreme Court judges and civil servants.

He was referring to a Supreme Court ruling on Friday instructing Netanyahu and his government to submit a response to a petition demanding the premier be declared incapacitated over his legal situation.

Many legal experts, economists and former security and economic officials, who include Netanyahu confidants and appointments, have come out against the government’s judicial plans.

Israel’s central bank chief has urged lawmakers to safeguard the independence of Israel’s institutions and the opposition is calling on Israelis to join a general strike on Monday.

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