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Biden and Netanyahu talk about ‘checks and balances’ amid Israeli legal crisis

President Biden met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to discuss what the US leader called “difficult issues” related to respecting democratic values.

The meeting comes amid an ongoing legal crisis in Israel. Netanyahu, who leads Israel’s most far-right government ever, is seeking to weaken the country’s Supreme Court. The attempted overhaul sparked nine months of unrest and demonstrations.

What Biden and Netanyahu talked about during their meeting in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly

“Today we will discuss some of the difficult issues, namely: defending the democratic values ​​that are at the heart of our partnership, including the checks and balances in our systems; and preserving the path to a negotiated two-state agreement . solution; and ensuring that Iran never – ever – acquires a nuclear weapon,” Mr. Biden said.

Netanyahu said later in the meeting that he wanted to “reaffirm” that “one thing is certain and one thing will never change, and that is Israel’s commitment to democracy.”

“We will continue to uphold the values ​​that our two proud democracies cherish,” Netanyahu said. “And I believe that by working together, we will realize that promise, reduce the dangers and bring a brighter future to our region and the world.”

The two men did not publicly discuss the judicial overhaul during the portion of the New York meeting open to the press. After the meeting, a senior Biden administration official addressed the judicial changes.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said he could not speak for Israeli leaders or Netanyahu. The official added that it was understood that there was a need to reach a compromise on the issue of judicial overhaul in Israel.

Biden and Netanyahu argue over legal issue

Mr. Biden previously urged Netanyahu to step down of the revision. In March, the president expressed serious concerns about the proposal.

“They can’t continue down this path, and I’ve kind of made that clear,” Mr. Biden said. “I hope the Prime Minister will act in a way that achieves a real compromise, but that remains to be seen.”

Netanyahu has argued that unelected Israeli judges hold too much power.

“Israel is a sovereign country that makes its decisions according to the will of its people and not based on external pressure, including from its best friends,” he added. Netanyahu published on social media in March after the president’s comments.

Protests in Israel

Netanyahu has faced immense pressure at home. For more than eight months, up to 200,000 Israelis across the country have been protesting attempts at judicial reform every Saturday evening.

Many Israelis view the weakening of the Court as a power grab, as it is the only means of controlling the government in Israel.

Some protesters say that without a strong Supreme Court, the ultra-Orthodox bloc in the government could turn Israel into a theocracy where biblical laws prevail.

Ron Scherf, a member of a group of military reservists called Brothers and sisters in armsin 60 Minutes, described the weakening of Israel’s Supreme Court as an “existential threat to Israel.”

“When a regime, a government, wants to get unlimited power, people are afraid. And people on the streets today are afraid that the government will get unlimited power without judicial oversight,” Scherf said.

Ron Scherf

60 minutes

Justice Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the controversial judicial overhaul, told 60 Minutes he respected the protesters’ rights, but said they should remember his government won the elections.

“The situation in Israel is that the Supreme Court is above the government, above the parliament, and even above the will of the people,” Levin said. “What I want to do is balance things out.”

Levin characterized the court as a group of elites who too often overrule lawmakers chosen by the people.

The first step of Levin’s judicial overhaul passed in July, significantly limiting the court’s power to overturn government decisions.

About 10,000 military reservists were so unhappy they pledged not to show up for work again. The Israeli military has warned that the loss of such a large number of reservists could compromise readiness and harm national security.

“What is the price of democracy? What do you suggest I do? We will say to Israeli citizens: ‘OK, don’t go and vote. There is no need to hold elections,'” Levin told 60 Minutes. “We will go to these ex-militarists and ask them what we are allowed to do and what we are not allowed to do.”


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