President Joe Biden is pressing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu to back down from plans to overhaul the country’s judiciary, comments that threaten to further inflame unrest across the Jewish state.
Biden said on Tuesday he is "very concerned" about Netanyahu’s push to limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court and ordered the Israeli prime minister to "walk away" from the effort. The president also said he has no plans to invite Netanyahu to the White House, apparently as punishment for his government’s action.
Biden’s comments threaten to further inflame an already divided Israeli society and come just weeks after the Washington Free Beacon reported that the State Department has been funding one of the anti-Netanyahu organizations fueling nationwide Israeli protests. The Jewish state has been besieged by far-left protests since Netanyahu unveiled his plan to rein in Israel’s Supreme Court, which has historically held great power over the country’s legislative branch.
"They cannot continue down this road. And I’ve sort of made that clear," Biden told reporters on Tuesday. "Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen." Biden also said that he has not communicated directly with Netanyahu on the issue, instead instructing the U.S. ambassador to deliver this message.
Biden’s comments conflict with his administration’s own messaging, which has been more positive after Netanyahu decided on Monday to put his judicial overhaul plans on ice until tensions in the country settle. White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday that the United States’ interest in the issue comes from a place "of respect and friendship." However, reports emerged on Wednesday that behind closed doors, Biden administration officials are saying Netanyahu’s government "has authoritarian leanings" that could erode the Jewish state’s democracy, according to Politico.
Netanyahu, in a response to Biden, said he would not be pressured by U.S. criticism.
"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," the Israeli leader said in a statement. "My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus."
Pro-Israel Republicans also criticized the White House for jumping into the fray.
"Utterly disgraceful," Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tweeted in response to the president’s comments. "Biden gleefully hosts anti-American radicals like [Brazilian president] Lula, while shunning close American allies like Netanyahu."
"It's clear that Biden and his officials are high from funding what they believe to be successful anti-government protests in Israel," Cruz said, referring to the Free Beacon’s earlier reporting.