WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Biden administration said the Israeli government’s decision Monday to restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down laws was “unfortunate” and said the United States remains hopeful that there can be compromise ahead.
“As a lifelong friend of Israel, President Biden has publicly and privately expressed his views that major changes in a democracy to be enduring must have as broad a consensus as possible,” Joe Biden’s spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday in the statement just after the 64-0 vote. “It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority.”
The entire opposition in the 120-member body boycotted the vote in the face of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to delay the proceedings while the sides sought compromise.
“We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess,” Jean-Pierre said. “The United States will continue to support the efforts of President Herzog and other Israeli leaders as they seek to build a broader consensus through political dialogue.” President Isaac Herzog met with Biden last week and discussed Netanyahu’s proposed overhaul of Israel’s judiciary.
Top Democrats close to the mainstream pro-Israel community sounded similar warnings. “Legitimate checks-and-balances are essential in all democracies,” Sen. Ben Cardin, a Jewish Maryland Democrat who has championed pro-Israel positions for decades in Congress, said on Twitter.
“The Knesset vote today for a law stripping the Israeli Supreme Court of its power to block government decisions is contrary to democratic values,” Cardin said. “I implore Netanyahu to support the core values that have enabled Israel to flourish and grow.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Jewish Democrat who is the senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the vote “desecrates judicial independence” and is a “dark day for Israeli democracy.” Nonetheless, he hoped that it presented an opportunity “to continue fighting for a democratic Israel.”
The vote came as massive protests clogged Israel’s main roads and cities and some military reservists and other critical personnel said they could no longer serve in good conscience. Opponents of the overhaul say the court’s ability to review and reverse legislations stand as a bulwark protecting vulnerable populations in a political system lacking a constitution, with a unicameral legislature and no distinction between the executive and legislative branches.
Proponents of the law say it corrects the overreach of a Supreme Court that is out of step with Israeli sentiment. The legislation approved Monday is part of a broader package introduced earlier this year; Netanyahu said Monday, after the Knesset vote, that he would be open to negotiations on the other elements.