Following a rebuke from President Joe Biden's rebuke, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a series of tweets overnight, including one that said: “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.” Photo by Debbie Hill/ UPI | License Photo
March 29 (UPI) -- Israeli government leaders blasted President Joe Biden after he criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial plan to overhaul the country's judicial system, which has sparked massive protests throughout the country for weeks.
The angry response from the longtime U.S. ally in the Middle East came after Biden spoke to reporters outside the White House Tuesday about the deepening political crisis in Israel.
The dispute between Washington and Tel Aviv arose hours before Biden and Netanyahu were set to participate in the international Summit for Democracy, which aims to expand democracy around the world and to address political upheaval the likes of which have emerged in Israel since the prime minister's latest rise to power in late 2022.
During Wednesday's virtual session, the two leaders were amicable, with Netanyahu saying "Israel and the United States have had their occasional differences," while vowing the partnership was "unshakable" and "nothing can change that," he said.
On Tuesday, Biden asserted Netanyahu should "walk away" from a proposal that would upend Israel's legal system by handing the conservative government full control over the country's judiciary, saying the prime minister "cannot continue down this road."
"Like many strong supporters of Israel, I'm very concerned," Biden said. "And I'm concerned that they get this straight."
Following Biden's remarks, Netanyahu posted a series of tweets overnight, including one that said: "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."
Earlier this week, the prime minister was forced to call off a vote on the contentious judicial measure in the Knesset as the violent demonstrations threatened to put the country on the brink of civil war.
Asked what Netanyahu's next move should be, the president said, "I hope he walks away from" the plan.
"Hopefully, the prime minister will act in a way that he is going to try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen," Biden said.
Hardline members of Netanyahu's administration also reacted defiantly to Biden's comments, accusing the U.S. of meddling in Israel's domestic policies and vowing the Israeli government would not be influenced by Washington.
Israel's far-right national security minister Itamar Ben Gvir told national media that Biden "needs to understand that Israel is no longer a star on the U.S. flag. We are a democracy and I expect the U.S. president to understand that."
Protest leaders have announced a pro-Biden rally Thursday in front of the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv.
Opposition leaders in the national assembly said they feared Netanyahu's leadership would ultimately stand to jeopardize diplomacy with the United States, and potentially compromise Israel's national security.
Relations with Washington appeared more strained than ever, as Biden had yet to invite Netanyahu to the White House after the prime minister returned to power in December, while other U.S. officials have also rebuffed sit-downs with members of the far-right Israeli government.
"For decades, Israel was the USA's closest ally. The most extreme government in the country's history ruined that in three months," said Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu maintains that his reforms would simply balance the power between the legislature and the judiciary, but opposition leaders describe the move as a huge step toward tyranny.
Under Netanyahu's plan, the Supreme Court would lose its ability to overturn laws passed by the Israeli parliament and allow for high court decisions to be overturned by a simple majority in the Knesset.
The plan would also allow politicians to leverage more authority to appoint judges as the legislation provides for Netanyahu's coalition to receive five of the high court's nine members, with only a simple majority needed to appoint judges to every court in Israel.
The administration has also called for government lawyers to be classified as political appointees, which would strip the attorney general's oversight authority.