Israeli Cabinet minister berates US Vice President Harris for criticism of judicial reform

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s Foreign Minister on Wednesday chastised U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris for speaking out against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judicial system.

The exchange underscored tensions between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s new government — the most right-wing and religious in Israel’s history — over the planned judicial overhaul.

Speaking at an event at the Israeli Embassy in Washington on Tuesday, Harris said shared values ​​are “the foundation of the US-Israeli relationship” and that democracies are “built on strong institutions, checks and balances and, I might add, an independent judiciary.”

Eli Cohen, Israel’s foreign minister, told Kan public radio: “I can tell you that if you ask her what bothers her about the reform, she won’t be able to tell you.” He said he believed Harris had not read the bills in question.

Biden has publicly expressed concern over the Netanyahu government’s plan to overhaul the justice system, which has sparked mass protests that continue every week even after the proposal was suspended. Amid tensions, Biden has not granted Netanyahu a typically customary invitation to the White House since his election in 2022.

US Ambassador Tom Nides responded to Cohen by saying that Harris had only reaffirmed the government’s longstanding position, according to Kan.

Critics say the bills would concentrate power in the hands of the Israeli government by giving politicians control over Supreme Court appointments, giving parliament the power to overrule high court decisions and passing unresponsive laws to judicial review.

Cohen then wrote on Twitter that he had “great respect for our ally the United States and for Vice President Harris, a great friend of Israel”, adding that the judicial overhaul was “an internal Israeli affair” and that the country would remain “democratic”. and liberal as he has always been.

While the bill’s freeze has eased tensions somewhat, Netanyahu’s allies are pushing him to go ahead with the overhaul. Ongoing talks between government officials and opposition parties – meant to chart a way out of the crisis – have so far proved fruitless.

Proponents of the overhaul say it is necessary to rein in what they see as an interventionist court and return power to elected lawmakers. Opponents say it would upset Israel’s delicate system of checks and balances and erode the country’s democratic institutions.

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