Israel Ignores Biden and Passes Judicial Reforms

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu / Getty

Israel's parliament on Monday ratified the first bill of a judicial overhaul sought by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the face of opposition from the Biden administration.

The ratification of the bill, which limits the Israeli Supreme Court's power to block government decisions, came a day after President Joe Biden warned Israel against pursuing the legislation.

"It looks like the current judicial reform proposal is becoming more divisive, not less," Biden said Sunday. "Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this."

The amendment to a law enabling the Supreme Court to void some government decisions if it deemed them "unreasonable" passed by a 64-to-0 vote after opposition lawmakers abandoned the session in protest, some of them shouting: "For shame!"

More deadlock loomed, however. Within minutes of the vote, a political watchdog group and the centrist opposition leader said they would appeal against the law at the Supreme Court.

Hoping to encourage a stopgap deal between the religious-nationalist coalition government and opposition parties, the Histadrut labour union threatened to declare a general strike if what it called "unilateral" measures were pursued.

Still, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, an architect of the reforms package cast by Netanyahu as needed to create more balance among branches of government, sounded undeterred.

"We took the first step in the historic, important process of fixing the justice system and restoring powers that were taken from the government and the Knesset," he said in a speech.

Biden has lobbied against Israel's judicial reforms for months, saying in March that he hopes Netanyahu "walks away from it." Netanyahu, in response, suggested Biden was attempting to unduly influence Israel's domestic affairs.

"Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends," Netanyahu said in March.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Steven Scheer, Ari Rabinovitch and Henriette Chacar; Editing by Miral Fahmy and Tomasz Janowski)