More than a dozen Jewish House Democrats are calling on the Israeli government to suspend plans to pass highly controversial judicial reforms that have drawn unprecedented opposition in Israel and sparked alarm among the Biden administration and Congress.
The House lawmakers sent a letter Thursday to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Leader of the Opposition Yair Lapid in an extraordinary expression of concern by U.S. government officials over an foreign, domestic political matter.
The letter comes amid sweeping protests in Israel, where more than a 100,000 people have routinely taken to the streets in weeks of demonstration to oppose judicial reforms that are being pushed through by far-right members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition.
Critics say the judicial reforms will have the far-reaching consequence of stripping Israel’s Supreme Court of its independence, will jeopardize protections for minority groups, shield politicians from accountability and empower nationalist lawmakers to push through efforts to exercise control over the West Bank absent negotiations with the Palestinians.
President Biden and his top officials have warned Netanyahu that pushing through the judicial changes in the face of mass opposition would threaten the “shared values” of the U.S. and Israel relationship.
The House letter, led by Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.) and Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and signed by 14 other Jewish Democrats, call for “compromise” on a judicial “overhaul” that they say “could fundamentally alter the democratic character of the State of Israel.”
“The overhaul being proposed that passed on first reading appears to imbue the Knesset [Israel’s parliament] with supreme power, unchecked by the Supreme Court,” the lawmakers wrote.
“If carried out to their fullest extent, these changes could fundamentally alter the democratic character of the State of Israel. A tenet of modern democracies is protections for those citizens with minority status, whether political, ethnic, or religious. We are deeply concerned about the impact these changes would have on people and groups not in the majority, including Reform, Conservative, Modern Orthodox and Reconstructionist Jewish populations in Israel.”
The lawmakers said that “it is neither our intention, nor our purpose, to prescribe how Israel should refine or reform its system of government,” but said they are committed to the enduring U.S.-Israel relationship and “feel it is both appropriate and necessary for us to share our concerns about the possible, even likely, potential impacts of the changes currently being debated in the Knesset.”
The lawmakers further called for Netanyahu and Lapid to embrace compromise offers being proposed by Israeli President Herzog, who addressed the nation Thursday evening in Israel, denouncing the judicial overhaul and warning of grave consequences.
“As members of the Jewish diaspora and friends of Israel, we are heartened by President Herzog’s calls for compromise, and we call on the government to suspend its efforts to pass the bills,” the lawmakers wrote.
“We urge all parties to come together to fully consider the potential implications of the changes being debated in the Knesset and to negotiate fairly and openly so that a broadly acceptable resolution can be reached and Israel can continue to be the flourishing beacon of democracy we have long admired.”