In an interview for “Face the Nation,” Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Margaret Brennan that the backlash sparked by the controversial judicial reforms proposed by his government is an “internal matter that we have to resolve.”
“I think there’s a broad consensus that we have to make corrections in our judicial system,” Netanyahu said. “There’s obviously a dramatic difference between the views of how, to what extent, and so on.”
Protests against the judicial reforms, which critics have decried as undemocratic, have been occurring in Israel every Saturday since Jan. 7, drawing hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets. The proposed reforms include an “override clause” which would remove the only check to lawmakers in Israel — allowing a majority in the legislative body to pass any law and override any decisions to strike it down.
U.S. President Joe Biden in March said he was “concerned” by Netanyahu’s actions and called on him to walk away from the overhaul.
But Netanyahu said Sunday that he isn’t concerned about damage to his relationship with Mr. Biden. “I value the alliance with the United States. And I value the friendship I’ve had over 40 years with President Biden,” Netanyahu said. “I don’t think anything will get in that way. But it’s an internal matter that we have to resolve.”
Nonetheless, Netanyahu announced in March that he would delay the judicial reforms after the backlash not only from the U.S. but also from one of Israel’s largest labor unions, members of its army’s reserve forces, and his own Minister of Defense.
“As we speak, right now, there are teams of my own party, the Likud, and the coalition with teams from the opposition, speaking in the president’s house,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “This is now the fifth or sixth meeting they’ve had seeking that compromise that I think is the mark of democracies. You don’t walk away from a problem, you try to solve it.”
Tens of thousands of Israelis joined protests in their 16th week ahead of celebrations for both Israel’s independence day and memorial day. A recent poll by the Israel Democracy Institute showed that a majority of Israelis oppose the override clause and believe that the Supreme Court should have the power to strike down a law.
American Jews across the political spectrum have condemned the reforms, including 4 top American Jewish organizations.
Members of Netanyahu’s government have also drawn criticism at home and abroad for their extreme views. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotritch has defined himself as a homophobe, and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir was banned from army service after leading the youth wing of a group later designated as a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.
This year, due to the protests, families have asked government ministers not to attend ceremonies at military cemeteries during Israeli memorial day recognition. According to the Times of Israel, Minister Ben-Gvir is planning to do so despite strong objections.
“I think a lot of them have changed over time,” Netanyahu told Brennan. “And they themselves say that. But the important thing to understand is they joined me, I didn’t join them.”
When asked about the appointment of May Golan to the position of General Consul in New York, Netanyahu said, “Anyone that I will appoint, will abide. stringently, stringently by that view that I’ve advocated throughout my lifetime. And it’s not pro forma. It’s not lip service. I really believe that.”
Golan, a member of the Knesset who has been criticized for calling herself “a proud racist,” tweeted earlier this week that she was being considered for the post.
“It is indeed an incredibly important post and anyone out I nominate, and I haven’t done so will have to abide,” Netanyahu said Sunday. “And we’ll abide by the mainstream positions that I’ve advocated and I welcome the fact that the United States has a multiracial and pluralistic society, so does Israel.”
Several U.S. lawmakers, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have announced their plans to visit Israel in the near term.
DeSantis is considering a run for the presidency, although eight members of Florida’s congressional delegation have already endorsed former President Donald Trump. Trump in 2018 moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a controversial move that was supported by Netanyahu, who was closely allied with Trump.
Netanyahu, whose policies are more closely allied with Trump, said he’ll “meet with everyone” in U.S. politics.
“Why not? I meet with Republican governors and Democratic governors,” Netanyahu said. “I’d meet with every American representative, governor, senator, members of Congress. And I think it’s my job. And I think it’s important for Israel’s bipartisan support in the United States.”