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Herzog walks a delicate tightrope



JTA – Israeli parties seeking a compromise should take United States (US) President Joe Biden’s concerns about the planned overhaul of Israel’s courts system into account, President Isaac Herzog said after meeting Biden.

Herzog’s advice, effectively aimed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and appearing only in his comments in Hebrew to Israeli media after his White House meeting on Tuesday, was unusual in saying a foreign leader had a role to play in a matter of internal debate.

“It’s not like the relationship between the US and countries that are very important to it. This is a relationship with deep family elements, with mutual concern about what happens in the US and, of course, in Israel,” Herzog said.

The appeal comes as US-Israel tensions increase, with members of Netanyahu’s cabinet openly accusing the Biden administration officials of colluding with the opposition.

Herzog’s conversation with Biden “covered regional issues, the Iranian threat, what’s happening with Hezbollah in Lebanon, but also what’s happening in Israel. And we have to understand and respect this, that when the president of the greatest power on earth asks questions and interests himself, as he did in his conversation with the prime minister yesterday, it’s not just for fun, not to gossip, to bother us; it comes from deep concern from many of our friends.

“It’s another consideration for us as a people in this moment to come to understandings, to agreements, to dialogue, to drafts [of a legislative deal], because at the end of the day, Israel is very important to the world, it’s very important to the region, it’s very important to the US, and that must also be a consideration to our brothers and sisters in Israel,” Herzog said.

Scheduled to speak to Congress on Wednesday to mark 75 years of the US-Israel relationship, Herzog is in a delicate position. He has decried Netanyahu’s original proposals as having the potential to bring Israel to the brink of civil war, and has offered his services to broker a compromise. Talks are currently at an impasse.

Yet his role is seen as above politics and he’s expected to represent all of Israel, including the government of the day. Herzog was previously a leader of the Labor Party and ran against Netanyahu in 2015.

Massive protests against the planned overhaul, which would sap the courts of much of their independence, have rocked Israel for months. The protesters see the courts as a bulwark protecting vulnerable populations, including women, Arabs, the non-Orthodox, and the LGBTQI+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex) community, and say the legislation to blunt their power would jeopardise Israeli democracy.

Biden, unusually, invited Herzog to the White House before inviting Netanyahu, and he has made it clear that his delay in inviting Netanyahu is because he’s unhappy with the direction of the current government. In a conversation this week, Biden told Netanyahu that he hoped to see him in the US soon.

In addition to the proposed courts reforms, Biden is also unhappy with the accelerated settlement in the West Bank, because of the extremists that Netanyahu has joined with in his coalition. Israel’s government is its most right-wing in history.

The English-language commentary by Biden and Herzog barely addressed tensions between the two countries.

“I was pleased to hear about your conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, which focused on our iron-clad military and security cooperation,” Herzog said as he and Biden met in the Oval Office. “Because there are some enemies of ours that sometimes mistake the fact that we may have some differences as impacting our unbreakable bond. I truly believe that if they would know how much our cooperation has grown in recent years and achieved new heights, they would not think that way.”

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