TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel’s minister of Diaspora affairs accused the Biden administration of working in cahoots with the Israeli parliamentary opposition to inflame the antigovernment protests now sweeping the country.
The accusation, made Tuesday morning in an interview on Kol BaRama, a haredi Orthodox radio station, came as crowds of protesters mounted demonstrations and shows of civil disobedience across Israel on what they are terming a “Day of Disruption.” Protesters have blocked major highways, burned tires and clashed with police, some of whom have been mounted on horses or used water cannons on the crowds. Dozens of protesters have been arrested. Further protests are due to take place at Ben-Gurion International Airport, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere.
The protests have been spurred by a vote early Tuesday morning in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, that advanced a bill to limit the power of the Supreme Court. The measure is one piece of a proposed judicial overhaul, introduced by the right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that aims to sap much of the court’s power and independence.
According to Israeli news reports on the interview, Chikli was responding to comments Biden made recently criticizing extremism in Netanyahu’s government and urging moderation in the judicial overhaul. He accused the president of collaboration with Netanyahu’s political opponents, including centrist lawmaker Yair Lapid, though he did not appear to provide any evidence to back up that claim.
“President Biden’s statements are scheduled with Lapid and Ehud Barak,” Chikli said, referring to the former Israeli prime minister who has become an outspoken voice against the judicial reform. “Biden’s circle coordinates with them every time they want to inflame the protests in Israel.”
Chikli’s comments amount to an allegation that Biden has crossed red lines in international affairs. While Biden has indicated displeasure with the judicial reforms, it is taboo for foreign governments to meddle directly in another country’s domestic politics. Chikli is also suggesting that Biden is trying to stoke unrest in Israel.
The allegation is far from the first provocative statement or action by Chikli since he became Diaspora minister near the beginning of the year. While in New York for a pro-Israel parade last month, Chikli made a face at protesters that included what looked to many to be an obscene gesture (which he said he did not mean to make). While defending the incident on Israeli television soon afterward, Chikli called the liberal Israel lobby J Street a “hostile” organization.
In February, he responded to criticism of the overhaul by U.S. Ambassador Tom Nides by telling the diplomat to “mind your own business.” And in May, he praised Twitter owner Elon Musk after Musk posted statements deemed by many, including another Israeli official, to be antisemitic. He came to his position having previously made statements deriding Reform Jews and LGBTQ people.