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Israel’s judicial reform efforts could complicate relations with the US, but the countries have faced other bumps along the way


President Joe Biden recently shocked many Americans and Israelis asked the new far-right government of the Jewish state are to make controversial attempts to reform the judiciary disappear like leavened products before Passover.

Biden’s unexpected request came in response to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to weaken the powers of the Israeli Supreme Court. to review or throw out laws. The country has no written constitution, so some observers think this could be disastrous checks and balances to confuse.

Netanyahu’s plan would do that too stop court of overriding the legislative and executive branches of government and Let politicians appoint judges.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis view these efforts as attacks on democracy and have clogged urban arteries ceaseless, unprecedented protests.

Biden appeared to side with the protesters, saying in late March 2023 that the Israeli government “cannot continue on this road.”

Biden’s comments were so disorienting that within 24 hours they prompted the administration to do damage control. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby praised Netanyahu for holding meetings with other politicians in a vain attempt to reach a compromise.

The reforms Netanyahu proposed, along with dozens other reactionary proposalsthreaten to weaken what many observers consider to be the The only democracy in the Middle East.

Yet rarely has an American president in the 21st century pointed his finger so directly at Israel, one of the United States’ closest allies. Biden’s break with etiquette has exclaimed the Democrats And Republicans right to ask myself: Do the proposed reforms pose a serious risk to US-Israeli relations?

The answer, based on my research in the history of US-Israel relations is that it is complicated.

Protesters take part in ongoing demonstrations against proposed judicial reforms in Tel Aviv on April 8, 2023.
Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

Eight sides to this story

At first glance, Israel’s shift to a de facto autocracy would – and some say, should – undermining Israel’s relations with the US.

There is a perception in both countries that the alliance between the US and Israel is largely emanating from and supported by them shared democratic values.

But the US has several allies that are not democratic, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Honduras. Israel has always been a democracy, but it took nearly two decades for America to warm up to Israel’s democratic values.

The story of democracy uniting Israel with the US tells only part of a larger story that dates back to the 1947 United Nations Partition Planwhich paved the way for the establishment of the Jewish state.

A complex relationship

The US and Israel have had tumultuous relations from the start.

On November 29, 1947, US representatives voted in favor of the UN Partition Plan. This called for the splitting of Palestine between Arabs and Jews. But the US quickly reversed course and proposed replacing the UN plan with an international trusteeship, what would have prevented the creation of Israel.

The US also declared an arms embargo against the Middle East on December 5, 1947. As I showed in my PBS documentary “A wing and a prayerthe embargo spared the Arabs, who received military supplies and training from the United Kingdom and France. But the embargo suffocated the Jews, who had no weapons and allies.

It was not until the second decade of the Cold War that Washington began to thaw its relations with Jerusalem. This started in 1962, when President John F. Kennedy Israeli defense missiles sold.

During the 1956 Suez Crisis – when Israel joined the UK and France fighting Egypt – Washington sided with Cairo, which had just transitioned from a monarchy to a political dictatorship.

Israel succumbed to American pressure and received nothing in March 1957 when it gave up the Sinai Peninsula, which it had captured a few months earlier. during the Suez crisis.

Benefiting from much better US relations two decades later, Israel reached a groundbreaking peace deal with Egypt for the same piece of land, which it had by then recaptured during the Six Day War of 1967.

Where they diverge

Despite their similarities, the US and Israel differ on several fundamental fronts. Thus, until the 1980s, the economy of the Jewish state was nothing like America’s. It resembled that of communist Russiawith enough government controls to pacify Karl Marx.

Even today, decades after the Reagan administration forced Israel to implement free-market changes, the Jewish state offers such socialist programs as nationalized healthcare.

Although the two countries share interests, their priorities sometimes diverge and even clash.

For example, it has long been in Washington’s interest to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the implementation of the two-state solution. Among other things, it would win the favor of the US with such a key allies like Saudi Arabiathat supports The right of the Palestinian people to the state.

Yet the lack of progress on the Palestinian issue has had no effect on America’s financial aid to Israel: every year, the US gives Israel $3.3 billion and another $500 million as part of a defensive missile development partnership.

Two elderly men shake hands and smile, standing in front of a blue backdrop and American and Israeli flags.
Then Vice President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands in Jerusalem in 2016.
Debbie Hill/AFP via Getty Images

Maintain tyres

So, what keeps the US and Israel so close?

According to Dennis Rossa senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who served as a special assistant to President Obama, the alliance amounts to strategic cooperation that began under President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s.

As part of this partnership, the US and Israel help each other achieve geopolitical goals in the Middle East and beyond. They assist each other in maintaining security at home and abroad, share intelligence, conduct military exercises, and collaborate on technological pursuits.

“Each administration since then, even if the president doesn’t have the warmest of relations with the Israelis — it’s true of George HW Bush, it’s true of Barack Obama — nevertheless they build on that foundational foundation,” Ross said during an interview for “Israel survived an early challenge”, a short documentary I co-produced with Retro Report.

Grow over time

The strategic partnership of the two countries has only grown in recent decades.

The US now counts more than ever on Israel for military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation. With Russia his claws dig into Ukraine And China flashes its sharp teeth at Taiwan, America must have a reliable, capable ally in the Middle East. So the US has no choice but to maintain close ties with Israel.

Strategically, the Jewish state has it all: unparalleled military intelligence, Hollywood-worthy espionage, sci-fi-esque technology, and cutting-edge, seasoned military forces.

For the US, such a partnership has proved invaluable, and it is value just keeps rising.

Washington’s latest geopolitical blunder – Pentagon memos leaked over the holiday weekend showing the US spying on allies such as South Korea, France and Israel only emphasizes the vitality and permanence of its relations with the Jewish state.

Americans and Israelis know their relations are strong enough to weather the leaked memo crisis with ease. After all, they survived the Jonathan Pollard affair in the 1980s, in which the US Navy intelligence officer gave secret documents to the Jewish state, some of which reportedly fell into Soviet hands. So while the US will certainly do everything it can to preserve Israel’s democratic character, it is unlikely to abandon this strategic partnership.

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