Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he will not bow to “pressure from abroad” after US President Joe Biden urged him to scrap the judicial reform plan in the latest sign of friction between the two alliances.
Biden told reporters he was “very concerned” about Israel amid the crisis caused by the judicial plan that sparked mass protests across Israel for a week.
“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I am very concerned. I am concerned that they get this right. They cannot continue down this road. I have made that clear,” Biden said.
“I hope he walks away,” he said, referring to Netanyahu.
The US president also said that Netanyahu will not be invited to the White House “in the near term”, bluntly responding with “no” when pressed on the matter.
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Netanyahu shot back Twitter saying “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.”
‘Israel is a sovereign country that makes its decisions according to the will of its people and is not based on foreign pressure, including best friends’
– Benjamin Netanyahu
In a series of tweets, he said that while he admired Biden’s “long-term commitment to Israel” he was beginning a process of “strengthening democracy by restoring the right balance between the three branches of government.”
Critics of the proposed judicial overhaul say the plan will weaken the country’s Supreme Court and give lawmakers unchecked powers.
After unprecedented strikes and protests on Monday, Netanyahu was forced to hit the pause button on the plan to allow dialogue for at least two months before moving forward with the bills in parliament.
The break comes as many warned that Israel was on the brink of civil strife. Earlier on Monday, Israel’s army chief said a “storm is brewing at home” as thousands of military reservists threatened not to serve in the army if the reform is successful.
Tensions with the US
Netanyahu’s coalition partners also hit back at Biden’s remarks.
National security minister Itamar Ben Gvir said: “Israel is not another star on the American flag. We are a democracy and I hope the US president understands that.”
The minister of culture and sports, Miki Zohar, tweeted that he felt “sad that Biden has fallen for all the fake news”.
Zohar later deleted the tweet saying that “out of respect for our important relationship with our greatest ally the United States, I deleted the tweet”.
The statements revealed the simmering tension between the two administrations.
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Asked if he spoke to Netanyahu during the crisis, Biden said “No, I didn’t. I delivered a message through our ambassador.”
When reporters asked if the US president’s open comments on Israeli politics could be seen as interference, Biden added: “We don’t want to interfere… Anyway, we’re not interfering. They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the position of American Jews.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid blamed Netanyahu for the strained relationship with the US.
“For years, Israel was the US’s closest ally, and the most extremist government in the country’s history has destroyed that in three months,” Lapid said in a tweet.
Former Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz called Biden’s remarks “an urgent wake-up call for the Israeli government… A destructive relationship with the US, our best friend and most important ally, is a strategic attack.
He said: “The prime minister must lead his negotiating team on the legal legislation, act quickly to correct the situation and preserve the Israeli democracy that is at the root of these values.”