U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon a judicial overhaul proposal that led to massive protests in Israel, prompting the Israeli leader to say he does not make decisions based on pressure from abroad.
Netanyahu on Monday delayed the overhaul proposal after large numbers of people took to the streets in protest. The White House initially said in response that Netanyahu should seek a compromise on the issue.
But Biden went further Tuesday in taking questions from reporters.
“I hope he walks away from it,” Biden said, referring to the judicial proposal that would give the Israeli government greater control over appointments to the country’s Supreme Court.
Netanyahu quickly issued a statement in response.
“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,” he said.
Netanyahu said his administration was striving to make reforms “via broad consensus.”
“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel,” Netanyahu said.
He said the Israel-U.S. alliance is unbreakable “and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us.
“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,” Netanyahu said.
The plans by Netanyahu’s nationalist religious coalition to hand control over judicial appointments to the executive while giving parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court rulings ignited one of the biggest internal crises in Israeli history.
Late Monday, Netanyahu announced his decision to suspend the plans until parliament returns after the break for the Passover holiday and Independence Day next month. Netanyahu said the crisis required all sides to act responsibly.
“Israeli society is on a dangerous collision course. We are in the midst of a crisis that is endangering the basic unity between us,” he said in a prime-time television address.
As he made the address, huge crowds had gathered in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, including a large counterdemonstration by right-wing supporters of the overhaul. Their presence prompted fears of possible violence between the two sides, but the evening passed with no reports of major violence.
While Netanyahu and his supporters say the plans would ensure a proper balance between the elected government and the judiciary and would not endanger individual and minority rights, they have drawn sustained and furious opposition.