Foreign policy play: Biden pressures Netanyahu to act as Israel erupts in protests

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The White House is urging Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to compromise on a plan to overhaul his nation’s judicial system amid widespread protests.

President Biden’s National Security Council issued a statement this week expressing apprehension about the quickly devolving domestic situation in Israel.

“We are deeply concerned by today’s developments out of Israel, which further underscore the urgent need for compromise,” said National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson. “Democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

The remarks followed protests that broke out across Israel after Mr. Netanyahu ousted his defense minister for opposing a plan to restructure the nation’s judiciary. Chanting the “country is on fire,” the protesters closed major highways.

“I call on all the demonstrators in Jerusalem, on the right and the left, to behave responsibly and not to act violently,” Mr. Netanyahu said in a social media post. “We are brothers.”

Support for the protesters has come from higher education officials, who have shuttered the nation’s universities in solidarity, and Israel’s largest labor trade union group. The latter, which represents 800,000 workers, announced a nationwide general strike beginning Monday that is likely to impact every sector of the Israeli economy. 

The tension has been brewing for weeks as Mr. Netanyahu and his conservative governing coalition have pushed forward with a judicial overhaul. 

The proposal would give the Israeli parliament a greater say over Supreme Court appointments. It also would allow the parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions. 

Mr. Netanyahu, who is facing corruption charges, has said the changes are necessary to ensure the Supreme Court is representative of Israel’s diversity. Opponents argue the overhaul is nothing more than a power grab.  

Critics were buttressed over the weekend as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, a member of Mr. Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, called for parliament to delay a vote on the proposal. Mr. Gallant said the delay is needed to protect Israel’s national security after military reservists began to refuse to perform their duties in protest to the proposal. 

“The security of the state of Israel has always been and will always be my life’s mission,” Mr. Gallant said. 

Mr. Gallant’s remarks were made on national television without notice to Mr. Netanyahu.

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