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Blinken Talks With Israeli Counterpart After Judicial Change Protests

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken talked with his Israeli counterpart, Eli Cohen, on March 30—just days after President Joe Biden criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts at judicial change.

“Like many supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned,” said Biden on March 28. “And I’m concerned that they get this right. They cannot continue down this road.”

He also said he would not meet with Netanyahu “in the near term.”

In a statement, the State Department did not explicitly mention the judicial change effort, though it said Blinken “emphasized the importance of refraining from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions.”

Blinken, according to the department, “reaffirmed the importance of the enduring U.S.–Israel bilateral relationship.

The secretary and the foreign minister discussed shared challenges including Iran, as well as efforts to advance mutual interests, such as Israel’s further regional integration.

“The secretary reiterated the continued United States commitment to a two-state solution, welcomed recent efforts to de-escalate tensions between Israelis and Palestinians through meetings in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh, and emphasized the importance of refraining from unilateral actions that exacerbate tensions.”

The meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, was on Feb. 26 and the communique in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, was on March 19.

Netanyahu announced on March 27 that Israel will halt its attempt at judicial change until the next legislative session, which will be after Passover.

In Israel, Passover starts on April 5 and ends on April 12 (April 13 outside of Israel).

“I am taking a timeout in the legislation of the judicial reform,” he said.

“In order to prevent a rift in our people, I have decided to suspend the vote on the second and third reading of the legislation in the current Knesset session, in order to try and reach an understanding on the legislation during the next Knesset session.”

Netanyahu pledged to “bring a reform that will restore the balance between the different branches of government while strengthening civil liberties.”

Massive protests were happening in Israel in response to the proposed changes and after Netanyahu fired his defense minister, Yoav Gallant, who voiced opposition to the government’s efforts, on March 26.

The United States expressed concern about the protests.

“As the president recently discussed with Prime Minister Netanyahu, democratic values have always been and must remain a hallmark of the U.S.–Israel relationship,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a March 26 statement.

“We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible. We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens. United States support for Israel’s security and democracy remains ironclad.”

Israel’s proposed changes would allow the government to appoint judges and for the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to overturn Supreme Court decisions.

Netanyahu has been criticized for attempting the move in order to shield himself from legal liability as he’s under indictment in multiple corruption scandals.

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