US President Joe Biden won’t be hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House anytime soon, instead urging him to back away from judicial reform legislation being pushed by his administration but he had to delay this week.
Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Biden made it clear that Netanyahu is not yet on his schedule for a visit to the White House. Unlike his predecessors who would visit Washington in the early months of his Presidency, Netanyahu has not yet made such a trip since he took office in December. protests about the judicial reform plan being pushed by his government, but which is meeting protests across the country.
The legislation that would undermine Israel’s High Court and give its politicians more power to appoint judges created a rift between the Biden administration and the American Jewish community. Biden said he had not spoken to Netanyahu in the past few days but had delivered a message to Israel through US Ambassador Tom Nides. Pressed by a reporter that Washington was seen to be interfering in Israel’s domestic politics, Biden said, “We don’t want to interfere…we’re not interfering. They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the position of American Jews.”
Biden made his statement one day after Netanyahu announced on Monday that he was suspending the judicial reform legislation until July, in the hope of reaching a compromise. Still, Netanyahu had said he was not abandoning the judicial reform, and that if no compromise was reached by the summer, he would go ahead with it anyway.
“Like many of Israel’s staunch supporters, I am deeply concerned. And I’m worried that they just get this. They cannot continue down this road. And I made that clear. I am — hopeful — I hope that the prime minister will act in a way that he is going to try to reach a real compromise. But that remains to be seen,” Biden said.
Responding to Biden’s remarks, Netanyahu fired back on Twitter, saying he does not accept instructions from abroad.
“Israel is a sovereign country that makes its decisions according to the will of its people and not based on foreign pressure, including the best of friends,” he said.
“I have known President Biden for over 40 years, and I appreciate his long-term commitment to Israel. The alliance between Israel and the United States is unbreakable and always overcomes occasional disagreements between us,” Netanyahu said .
Earlier on Tuesday, Nides praised Netanyahu’s decision to suspend judicial reform, saying the Israeli prime minister will be invited to the White House “as soon as his schedules can be coordinated.” Nides said, “I’m sure it will be coming soon enough. I assume after Passover, obviously no date has been set yet. There is no question whether he will come to meet with Biden. They will see each other in person, I’m sure, very soon.”
The White House then clarified that no date has been scheduled for such a meeting and that no invitation is expected to be sent in the near future.
An unnamed senior administration official who spoke to the American Jewish publication Forward accused Netanyahu and Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer of making a “gross miscalculation” in understanding America’s response to the judicial reform. “There was no way Jerusalem wanted to be where they are today. As the president pointed out, what happens next is up to Ron and Bibi [Netanyahu].” The official added that right-wing Israeli politicians “can try to smear the Biden administration all they want” — but “it’s not helping.”
The New York Times reported that the Biden administration put a lot of pressure on Netanyahu over the weekend to stop the judicial overhaul. The White House also expressed deep concern over Netanyahu’s decision to fire Defense Minister Yoav Gallant over his call to halt reform. Washington considers Gallant the best and most moderate interlocutor within the Netanyahu government.
Leader of the opposition National Unity party Benny Gantz said on Tuesday, “Biden tonight sent an urgent wake-up call to the government of Israel,” and noted that “a harmful relationship with the United States – our best friend and our most important ally – . a strategic attack.” Gantz called on Netanyahu to reinstate Gallant immediately, confiscate Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s responsibilities regarding West Bank Jewish settlements and stop the wandering of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Ben-Gvir said Wednesday morning that the United States must understand that Israel is an independent country and “not another star on the American flag.”