(JTA) — The White House expressed “deep concern” as Israel’s protests reached a fevered pitch after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired his defense minister for calling for a pause on far-reaching reforms to the judiciary.
The one paragraph statement released late Sunday by National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson urged “compromise” twice, as protesters flooded the streets of the country in response to Netanyahu’s dismissal of Yoav Gallant.
The proposed reforms would sap the judiciary of much of its power and independence. The legislation has sent hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets in twice-weekly planned protests, but Sunday night’s demonstrations were extraordinary for their spontaneity. The protests were still taking place at 3 a.m. Israel time.
“We are deeply concerned by today’s developments out of Israel, which further underscore the urgent need for compromise,” she said. “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.”
Some critics of the judicial legislation, including Israeli President Isaac Herzog, have argued that the proposed changes are too significant to be pushed through by a narrow majority vote and should instead reflect a wide national consensus, a sentiment the NSC statement appeared to endorse.
“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,” it said. “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. U.S. support for Israel’s security and democracy remains ironclad.”
An earlier National Security Council statement sent to he Times of Israel suggested that the White House perceived the military readiness of a close ally as being at stake in addition to shared values.
That statement referred to Gallant’s speech Saturday night, which prompted his firing. Gallant said that Israel’s internal divisions could invite aggression from its enemies, including Iran and other adversaries.
“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing developments in Israel, including the potential impact on military readiness raised by Minister Gallant, which further underscores the urgent need for compromise,” said the earlier statement, which reporter Jacob Magid posted on Twitter. It’s not clear why the reference to military readiness was later removed.
Gallant said in his speech that he backed some reforms to the judiciary, but he called for a pause on the legislation for a month to negotiate reforms that reflected a broader national consensus. His speech came days before Netanyahu planned to bring one major piece of the legislation, which would significantly increase the governing coalition’s power over Supreme Court appointments, to a final vote.
Another major component of the overhaul would effectively remove the power of the Supreme Court to review laws. The court has been seen as a bulwark against attempts to erode protections for vulnerable communities, including Arabs, women, the LGBTQ community and non-Orthodox Jews.
Following the weekend’s events, it was unclear when the legislation would be brought to a final vote.