State Department denies orchestrating Israeli strikes: ‘Completely false’

Israel Politics
People hold a bust of Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu depicted as Roman emperor in Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday, March 27, 2023. Oded Balilty/AP

State Department denies orchestrating Israeli strikes: ‘Completely false’

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The Biden administration has not orchestrated the Israeli protests against a judicial overhaul proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, according to Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s team.

“These accusations are completely and demonstratively false,” State Department spokesman Vedant Patel told reporters. “Any notion that we are propping up or supporting these protests or the initiators of them is completely and [demonstrably] false.”

NETANYAHU FIRES MINISTER OF DEFENSE AFTER HE PRESSED FOR HALTING JUDICIAL OVERHAUL

Netanyahu suspended the march toward the adoption of the legislation on Monday in the face of a nationwide strike and a widening trend of civil disobedience by Israeli military reservists. U.S. and Israeli officials have tried to maintain a convivial tone throughout the debate over the law, which opposition leaders and dissidents regard as an attempt to subordinate the Israeli Supreme Court to Netanyahu, but the prime minister’s son has tweeted or retweeted a variety of comments portraying his father as the victim of a coup attempt.

“The Shin Bet is involved in a coup against the prime minister! Investigative committee now!” Yair Netanyahu, 31, wrote last month in a since-deleted accusation against Israel’s internal security services. “These people need to stand trial and be sent to prison for many years.”

He extended that allegation to Foggy Bottom last week by retweeting another Israeli commentator’s reaction to a report that the State Department has provided financial support to a nonprofit group called the Movement for Quality Government.

“The American State Department is behind the protests in Israel, with the aim of overthrowing Netanyahu, apparently in order to conclude an agreement with the Iranians,” the tweet alleged with a link to a Breitbart piece that aggregated a Washington Free Beacon report on the funding. “Is there a Shin Bet in this country?”

That allegation distorts the timing and nature of the U.S. aid, according to Blinken’s team.

“It received a modest grant from the State Department that was initiated during the previous administration,” Patel said. “The latest dispersal of funds came in September of 2022, prior to the most recent Israeli elections. And this grant supported an educational program for Jerusalem schools that supplemented their civic studies curriculum.”

And yet, the allegation has found traction with Benjamin Netanyahu’s political circle. “This protest is financed and organized with millions of dollars,” an unnamed official told the Times of Israel while traveling with the prime minister in Italy earlier this month. “We are following what is happening. This is a very high-level organization. There is an organized center from which all the demonstrators branch out in an orderly manner.”

Patel offered his rebuttal shortly after Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would pause the initiative to overhaul Israel’s judicial system in order “to avoid civil war” over the bill.

“There cannot be a civil war. We are on the path of a dangerous collision in Israeli society, in the midst of a crisis that endangers the basic unity between us,” the prime minister said Monday. “Therefore, out of national responsibility, out of the desire to prevent a rift in the nation, I decided to suspend the second and third readings of the law in this session of the Knesset to give time to reach the same broad agreement on the legislation during the next Knesset.”

The proposed judicial overhaul has multiple components, perhaps none more controversial than a so-called “override” mechanism that would allow a simple majority of Israeli lawmakers to revive a law struck down by the Supreme Court. “It would effectively mean that any law passed by the Knesset would be immune from the Supreme Court,” the Israel Policy Forum’s Michael Koplow observed last month. “There are precious few scenarios under which a government could not easily muster 61 votes to confirm a law that it had recently passed, and the proposal will thus eliminate judicial review over Knesset decisions.”

The judicial overhaul emerged as the centerpiece of the Likud-led government’s agenda after Israel’s fifth round of elections in four years enabled Benjamin Netanyahu to forge a coalition of center-right and far-right Israeli lawmakers. The legislation has been championed by one of the most controversial members of the coalition, but it wasn’t a subject of much discussion within the coalition before the unveiling of the bill and the subsequent tumult, according to a member of the prime minister’s coalition.

“It wasn’t us that prepared it; it was Kohelet Forum,” said Israeli lawmaker Keti Shitrit, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, referring to a think-tank described as “the brains of the Israeli right wing” by its U.S.-born founder, Moshe Koppel.

Koppel, however, has denounced the override mechanism as a “completely idiotic” brainchild of Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox allies. “We never wanted the override,” he said last week, telling a New York audience that he expects it to be dropped in negotiations. “There’s not going to be an override; nobody ever thought there was going to be an override. … I am telling you, listen to me, read my lips: There is not going to be an override.”

Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid, the center-left politician who led the bloc that drove Benjamin Netanyahu from the prime minister’s office for a year before its collapse in June, hailed the prime minister’s pause as an opportunity to negotiate an Israeli constitution.

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“We don’t need to put a bandage over the injuries, but to treat them properly,” Lapid said Monday. “We need to sit together and write the Israeli constitution based on the values of the Declaration of Independence.”

President Joe Biden’s team hailed Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement “as an opportunity to create additional time and space for compromise” between the different factions. “We believe that it is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens to find this compromise,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Monday. “Fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support, and so that’s what we’re going to continue to call for.”

© 2023 Washington Examiner

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