After Benjamin Netanyahu secured 64 seats in Israel’s legislature, the Knesset, in Nov. 2022, leading to his sixth term as the country’s prime minister, one of the major domestic policy pushes has been to reform the country’s judiciary to give the ruling party more power to make appointments via the Judicial Selection Committee by giving the acting government the majority of seats on the committee, which be increased to 11 members, with the government with seven of those spots.
The current system requires seven out of nine members of the committee to approve new justices, and the Supreme Court gets three seats on the committee, giving the court an effective veto over any new members of the court.
The new laws would also codify judicial review, making the country’s 1992 Basic Laws off limits to said review, and otherwise allow the Knesset to override any Supreme Court ruling with a majority vote.
Members of the center-right coalition government argue the changes will strike a balance between the Basic Laws—which were declared a type of constitutional law in a 1995 Supreme Court decision similar to the United States’ Marbury v. Madison that established judicial review—and successor laws.
Sounds almost American. In the U.S., the President appoints federal judges, which are confirmed by a majority of the Senate, which sometimes is rule by a majority of the President’s party. Similarly, the U.S. has a Constitution, which cannot be overridden by the Supreme Court. Indeed, it’s the opposite, where a law can be struck down if it is found to contradict any constitutional provision.
So, such changes might make Israel’s judicial system a bit more like the U.S. and other Western countries. While that is very interesting, certainly, it is certainly not something that the U.S. State Department or President Joe Biden should be directly involving himself with.
And yet, that’s exactly what has happened. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Thomas Nides in February called for “pumping the brakes, slow down and try to build consensus” on the reforms after supporters of the opposition parties began staging street protests.
This resulted in Diaspora Affairs Minister Amichai Chikli responding stating, “Mind your own business… You’re not the sovereign here… We’d be happy to debate with you international or security affairs, but respect our democracy.”
Adding the diplomatic feud, Nides responded in turn, stating, “Some Israeli official—I don’t know who he is, I don’t think I’ve met him—suggested that I should stay out of Israel’s business… I really think that most Israelis do not want America to stay out of their business.”
Spoken like a Roman provincial governor. Wow. The U.S. State Department is actually taking a position on legislation pending before Israel’s duly elected parliament on a domestic policy issue, the composition of Israel’s courts—something Israel itself unquestionably has sovereign authority over—in turn fueling protests all over Israel.
On the other hand, this also appears to be a standard, long-standing feature of U.S. foreign policy for many decades since the end of World War II and even before then when the examples of Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War are considered, but also interventions in Panama, Mexico, Honduras, Haiti and so forth. World War II itself being an example, where in the aftermath the U.S. stood up governments, ostensibly democratic, in Italy, West Germany at the time and Japan, after the Axis Powers were defeated. But also during the Cold War, with attempted interventions in Cuba, Vietnam and other influence in foreign elections such as Italy from 1948 onward, to prevent communists from taking over.
And afterwards, in the 1996 election in Russia, where Bill Clinton took actions to help Boris Yeltsin to get reelected, including forestalling NATO expansion and including Russia in the G-8, but when the latter was a bridge too far for the U.S. (NATO expansion would not continue until 1999 when Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland acceded), settled on increased payments from the International Monetary Fund to Moscow, explicitly to help Yeltsin’s reelection bid (at the time it appeared possible that the communists might win the election).
Most recently, the civil war in Ukraine that began in 2014—leading to Russia annexation of Crimea and then 2022 invasion—actually started out as a policy disagreement over a pair of competing trade agreements with the European Union and Russia. President Joe Biden told the tale in his book, “Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose,” published in 2017, referring to his time as Vice President during the tenure of former President Barack Obama, where Obama made Biden yet another Roman provincial governor of Ukraine.
“A popular demonstration,” Biden wrote, “which started at a square in Kyiv in late 2013, when President Viktor Yanukovych reneged on his promise to take the country into the European Union, had grown from a spontaneous eruption to a real political movement — one President Yanukovych mishandled badly.”
Here, Biden is referring to the pro-Europe, anti-Russia trade agreement, the Ukraine–European Union Association Agreement. It was a trade deal Yanukovych’s then-adviser Paul Manafort had advised him to adopt, but in 2013, he rejected Manafort’s advice, pulling out of the deal. What followed was a revolution in Ukraine that ultimately ousted Yanukovych from power in 2014, embroiling Ukraine in civil war that led directly to the annexation of Crimea by Russia and several separatist uprisings in eastern Ukraine. Yanukovych then fled to Russia on Feb. 22, 2014, and the trade deal was signed in March 2014 by interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.
By Biden’s account, it was his pressure that prompted Yanukovych to flee: “I made the last of many urgent calls to Yanukovych in late February of 2014, when his snipers were assassinating Ukrainian citizens by the dozens and we had credible reports that he was contemplating an even more vicious crackdown. I had been warning him for months to exercise restraint in dealing with his citizens, but on this night, three months into the demonstrations, I was telling him it was over; time for him to call off his gunmen and walk away. His only real supporters were his political patrons and his operators in the Kremlin, I reminded him, and he shouldn’t expect his Russian friends to rescue him from this disaster. Yanukovych had lost the confidence of the Ukrainian people, I said, and he was going to be judged harshly by history if he kept killing them. The disgraced president fled Ukraine the next day…”
This event sounds a lot like Biden’s description of getting Ukraine’s prosecutor general, Viktor Shokin, fired in 2016, when he threatened then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko with $1.2 billion of loan guarantees if the firing was not completed, with Biden bragging to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2018 that Shokin was fired the same day. Shokin says he was investigating a natural gas firm, Burisma Holdings, who Biden’s son, Hunter, served on the board of directors of and that that’s why he was fired.
So, to get a trade deal with the European Union signed, by Biden’s own account, in part helped to catalyze the overthrow of the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Yanukovych.
Often, these interventions do appear predicated upon a desire to prevent one-party states from forming in these countries that might be hostile to U.S. interests. So, in the case of Ukraine, obviously, U.S. interests would have included a desire to prevent Yanukovych from becoming a president for life, casting Ukraine back into Moscow’s sphere of influence and staging Russian forces in its country.
Paramount among those interests appears to be to keep the strategic situation as it is, or to advance it in favor of U.S. interests. Democracy comes second or even further down the hierarchy, meaning even if a democratically elected leader wishes to do business with more countries than just the West, maybe it should watch out.
Now, in Israel, in 2023, the U.S. is supporting protests in the streets of Israeli cities, with some talk of civil war in the Jewish state, with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writing on Feb. 28, “What Israeli leader would risk a civil war at home, a breach with Jewish democrats across the world, a break with America, significant damage to Israel’s high-tech miracle — and now open talk by Israeli soldiers that they will not die to protect a dictatorship. What Israeli leader would risk all of that for just a few technical judicial fixes?”
It is hard not to see similarities between today’s protests in Israel and the Maidan protests that began in 2013 that preceded the civil war in Ukraine. We clearly know a lot about meddling in other countries’ affairs, including democracies. Clearly, Israel is no different in the United States’ eyes.
So, maybe a better way of looking at it, however, is with Netanyahu making historic progress to expand the 2020 Abraham Accords—begun under the Trump administration—to potentially include Saudi Arabia, with first ever recognitions of Israel’s right to even exist by its Arab neighbors, which now include Bahrain and United Arab Emirates, plus the continued threat posed by Iran to the region as it speeds along to developing nuclear weapons, what American President would risk toppling Israel’s democracy to oppose “just a few technical judicial fixes?”
If anything, the U.S. position should be to respect free democracies’ internal decision making via elected, representative branches of government, but perhaps that ship sailed when the U.S. security state became determined to depose former President Donald Trump after his 2016 election by falsely accusing him and his campaign of being a Russian agent, leading to covert investigations of his campaign, his transition and then his sitting administration once he took office in 2017, culminating in a special counsel who found no conspiracy by the campaign with Russia to interfere in the 2016 elections.
We’ve seen this movie before. The current U.S. posture is akin to a local mob collector coming over to Israel saying, “Nice democracy you have there, Bibi, shame if anything were to happen to it.”
Robert Romano is the Vice President of Public Policy at Americans for Limited Government Foundation.
To view online: https://dailytorch.com/2023/03/why-is-the-u-s-interfering-with-israels-domestic-politics-state-dept-calls-on-israel-to-pump-the-brakes-on-proposed-judicial-reforms-backs-nationwide-protests/