Benjamin Netanyahu, the struggling prime minister of Israel, and US President Joe Biden had a rare public argument on Tuesday, but Netanyahu intensified it by dismissing “pressure” from the White House when Biden denounced his contentious attempts to weaken Israel’s judiciary.
The back-and-forth has made public a diplomatic dispute that has been largely kept quiet for the past few weeks. Biden and other American officials have tried to gently discourage Netanyahu from implementing his suggested reforms without appearing to have a disagreement. However, it appears that despite the two men’s long-standing friendship, the distance between them is growing.
Netanyahu’s proposed judicial reform was sharply criticized by Biden on Tuesday, saying he wouldn’t be invited to the White House “anytime soon.”I am quite concerned, just like many ardent supporters of Israel. I worry they’ll make that abundantly evident. You can’t go on in this direction. In North Carolina, Biden told reporters, “I kind of got that straight. The prime minister, he continued, “hopefully will act in such a way that he can work out a true compromise.” That is still up in the air.
About Netanyahu’s legal study, Biden added in separate remarks on Tuesday, “I hope he walks away from it.”
In retaliation, Netanyahu noted Biden’s “longstanding commitment to Israel” in a statement late Tuesday night, but added that “Israel is a sovereign country that makes its decisions according to the will of its people and not in response to pressure from abroad, including from within the best friends.”
The exchange strained the relationship between the heads of state and government of the two closely allied countries in an unusual way.
Yair Lapid, Israel’s opposition leader and former prime minister, said Wednesday that Netanyahu’s efforts had “ruined” the relationship. “For decades, Israel was America’s closest ally. The most extreme government in the history of the country ruined this in three months,” Lapid tweeted.
It follows an outburst of anger in Israel and in some Jewish communities in the US and around the world over the Netanyahu government’s attempts to weaken the power of the country’s courts.
The prime minister finally suspended legislation on Monday after a general strike and mass protests plunged Israel into chaos, but he said he plans to return to the effort in the next parliamentary term. Critics say Netanyahu is pushing through the changes because of his own ongoing corruption case, which he denies.