Biden White House Urges Compromise amid Judicial Reform Protests, Clashes in Israel

President Joe Biden’s administration weighed in Sunday night on the state of democracy and continuing chaos in Israel, saying it was “deeply concerned” after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suddenly ousted an opponent of his controversial judicial reforms.

“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 statement follows a phone call a week ago between Netanyahu and President Biden, during which the president stressed the importance of democracy.

“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” said the White House in a statement Sunday.

Netanyahu fired his defense minister after the top official called for a pause on a contentious judicial reform proposal that fueled months of passionate protests in and abroad. In response to the move, hordes of protestors took to the streets, lighting fires on a highway in Tel Aviv and knocking down police barricades outside Netanyahu’s home.

The growing tensions came after Yoav Gallant, the defense minister, said Saturday night that Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul created a security threat to Israel. Reservists in the military have refused to sign up for duty, with many more threatening to do the same. The consul general of Israel in New York resigned in protest.

Along with the nighttime protests in Israel, universities were canceling classes, and a powerful trade union was expected to call for a general strike.

While the government in Israel was expected to move forward this week with the controversial plan, the United States pushed for a quick de-escalation.

“We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible,” said the White House. “We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and its citizens. U.S. support for Israel’s security and democracy remains ironclad.”

Defense Minister warned judicial overhaul could fracture the country’s military

Gallant, a Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party member, warned in a televised speech on Saturday that the judicial overhaul is “a clear, immediate, and tangible danger to the security of the state.”

“As Minister of Defense of the State of Israel, I emphasize that the growing rift in our society penetrates the IDF and security agencies,” said Gallant. “I will not allow this. But now, I declare loudly and publicly, for the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of our sons and daughters — the legislative process should be stopped.”

Netanyahu has argued that unelected Supreme Court justices hold too much power and has pressed forward with his plans for a judicial overhaul. The move would allow the governing coalition increased say over judicial appointments while limiting judicial review of laws.

“We must all stand up strongly against refusals,” tweeted Netanyahu on Sunday. According to the Times of Israel, the prime minister was in his office Sunday evening for hours of “security and legal discussion.”

Protests numbering in the thousands have been going on in Israel for months. Demonstrators grappled with police outside the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem on Sunday evening. According to reports, some protestors breached barricades around Netanyahu’s home.