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US calls Israel's controversial judicial overhaul law 'unfortunate' over lack of consensus

The controversial judicial reform law was a key part of Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to reshape the justice system and led to widespread protests across the country.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee Washington Published on: July 25, 2023 7:21 IST
White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday.
Image Source : AP White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre on Monday.

The United States on Monday reiterated strong concerns over Israel's approval of a contentious law that prevents judicial checks on political power, a plan that has ignited widespread protests across the Jewish country.

A statement from the White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said that US President Joe Biden has expressed his views that major changes in a democracy must have as broad a consensus as possible.

"It is unfortunate that the vote today took place with the slimmest possible majority. We understand talks are ongoing and likely to continue over the coming weeks and months to forge a broader compromise even with the Knesset in recess," read the statement.

The White House Press Secretary also reiterated that the US will continue to support the efforts of Israeli President Isaac Herzog and other leaders to seek a broader consensus through public dialogue.

In a press briefing, Jean-Pierre said that Biden will meet Herzog later this year. Referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, she said, "President Biden and the Prime Minister have a — have a decades-long relationship, as I’ve been saying. And they’ve always been very candid with each other and discussed shared interests, and also have shared their concerns as well."

The controversial judicial overhaul was a key part of Netanyahu's plan to reshape the country's judicial system. The bill passed with 64 votes in favour and zero against it, with the opposition boycotting the final vote on the bill in protest.

According to the law’s text, courts are prohibited from exercising any scrutiny over the “reasonableness” of cabinet and minister decisions, including appointments and the choice to not exercise vested authorities, it said. 

Multiple last-minute attempts within the Knesset to amend the bill or to come to a broader procedural compromise with the opposition failed. The "reasonableness" bill would remove the power of the Supreme Court to overturn government decisions that it deems to have gone too far.

The controversial reforms have polarised Israel, triggering one of the most serious domestic crises in the country's history. The protesters have been demanding that the government shelve its contentious judicial overhaul initiative that will curtail the power of the courts to oversee the executive and legislative branch's decisions.

As many as 20,000 protesters were demonstrating outside the Knesset chanting "democracy or rebellion" while the vote was being held inside. Protest leaders vowed to continue their fight to protect Israel's liberal democracy. "The state of Israel will survive solely because of the millions (of protesters) who protected it with their bodies in the past months," they said.

The judicial overhaul plan created tensions between the US and Israel since earlier this year, after Biden remarked in March that Netanyahu’s government “cannot continue down this road” and urged compromise on the plan roiling Israel."

In response, the Israeli Premier ejected the suggestions and asserted that Jerusalem makes its own decisions. "Israel is sovereign and makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends," said Netanyahu.

ALSO READ | EXPLAINED: What is Israel's judicial overhaul and why is it so controversial?

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