House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Thursday issued a statement supporting Benjamin Netanyahu as the Israeli prime minister finds himself embroiled in an unprecedented democratic crisis.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot, statesman, and most importantly, a great friend of the United States of America,” McCarthy said in a statement.
“Free societies have vigorous and open debate. Israel is no exception. I support Prime Minister Netanyahu, and America’s support for Israel’s strong, vibrant democracy is unwavering. Now is an important time for Americans to stand together in support of our long, mutually respectful, and important friendship with Israel.”
The Speaker’s statement follows extraordinary warnings from President Biden and his most senior officials, who welcomed Netanyahu pausing his pursuit of judicial reforms that have drawn widespread opposition on the streets of Israel.
While administration officials reinforced their ironclad commitment to Israel’s security, they had in recent weeks issued warnings publicly and privately that Netanyahu’s pursuit of overhauling Israel’s judiciary was a direct threat to the U.S. and Israel relationship.
Critics say the so-called judicial reforms are an unacceptable overhaul that would destroy Israel’s democracy by removing any semblance of checks and balances — giving the executive branch effective power to appoint court judges and overrule Supreme Court decisions.
Biden on Tuesday said he hoped Netanyahu “walks away from” the plans for the judicial overhaul and added that he had no intention of welcoming the Israeli leader to the White House “in the near term.”
“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I’m very concerned, and I’m concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road,” Biden told reporters after a speech in North Carolina on the economy.
“Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise. But that remains to be seen,” Biden added.
Both Democrats and Republicans have watched closely in recent weeks as Netanyahu and leaders in his far-right governing coalition have sought to push forward the highly controversial reforms to Israel’s judiciary.
But the parties have differed in their approach, with Democrats publicly vocalizing their concerns and opposition while Republicans have carefully couched their criticisms in support for Israel’s democratic process to work itself out.
“The administration, if they’re going to convey a message, it ought to be doing it through secure channels and not being so public about it,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, told The Hill on Wednesday.
“An ally like Israel that absolutely needs a friend like the United States as part of its deterrence, we want to, in no way convey any — no matter who’s prime minister — diminution of support. Talk it out on a secure phone or in a meeting, don’t do it through the press. “