Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told US President Joe Biden that Israel is an independent country and doesn’t answer to outside pressure.

US PRESIDENT Joe Biden, at the time serving as vice president, has dinner with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, during his visit to Israel in 2010.
(photo credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be invited to the White House in the “near term,” US President Joe Biden told reporters on Tuesday, as he urged Israel to drop its judicial reform plan.

“I hope he [Netanyhau] walks away from it,” Biden said as he issued his most clear objections to date over Israel’s judicial overhaul process.

“Like many strong supporters of Israel, I am very concerned. I am concerned that they get this straight. They can not continue down this road. I have sort of made that clear,” Biden said. 

“Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he will try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen.”

When asked if he would invite Netanyahu to the White House, Biden quickly replied, “no, not in the near term.”

THEN-US vice president Joe Biden prepares to sign the guest book before his meeting with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem in 2010 (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

Netanyahu defends judicial reform, says Biden shouldn’t interfere in Israeli domestic affairs

In a very public dispute that followed Netanyahu said in response, “I have known President Biden for over 40 years and I appreciate his longstanding commitment to Israel.

“The alliance between Israel and the United States is unbreakable and always overcomes the occasional differences between us,” Netanyahu said. 

He defended his judicial reform program, which critics warn is weakening Israeli democracy.

“My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus,” Netanyahu said.

Given this, there is no room for the United States to intervene in Israel’s domestic affairs, Netanyahu explained.

“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he added. 

Biden rejected Netanyahu’s accusations, stating, “We’re not interfering. They know my position. They know America’s position. They know the American Jewish position.”

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar (Likud) tweeted, “It breaks my heart to see how much damage has been done to Israel from all the fake news that has been spread in connection with our justified legal reform.”

When Netanyahu returned to office after an 18-month hiatus, it was expected that one of his first foreign trips would be to meet with Biden.

US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides has often spoken of how a trip was forthcoming in the near future, but never set a date. Similar statements were echoed in Washington.

In 2009, when Netanyahu entered office on March 31, he went to the United States to meet former US president Barack Obama in May, less than two months later.

But when he was re-elected in 2013 and formed a new government, it took almost a year before he visited Obama in the White House.

Still, the absence of an invitation has garnered media attention in Israel as a symptom of tensions with Washington over Netanyahu’s judicial reform and his government’s actions and statements with regard to the West Bank and Palestinians.

Downplaying the absence of an invitation to the White House

The United States, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Biden, have also urged Netanyahu to take a consensus approach to his judicial reform plan.

In an interview with Channel 12 on Tuesday Nides downplayed the absence of a Washington invitation.

“I would bet you the prime minister has been to Washington more than any single foreign leader combined,” Nides said, noting that Netanyahu in the past has had no lack of White House invitations.

“He probably knows the White House better than I do. He has no lack of invitations to the White House. He and Joe Biden go back close to 40 years,” Nides said, adding, “I have no doubt they will spend time together.”

Nides emphasized that an invitation would eventually be forthcoming, but that no date had been set for such a visit.

US VICE-PRESIDENT Joe Biden with then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, in 2016. (credit: DEBBIE HILL/POOL/REUTERS)

He said he welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to suspend the passage of a critical reform bill to allow for a month of consensus talks.

“We want to see the country come together with a compromise to slow things down,” Nides said. “That is what I think the prime minister is going to do,” he said.

“I take the prime minister at his word,” Nides said adding that he believed Netanyahu “wants to create an opportunity to bring the country together and we welcome that.”

The relationship between the United States and Israel is very close, Nides said, explaining that at his embassy, “we spend an enormous amount of time every day talking to the PM’s Office and they talk to our office.” It’s akin to a family connection, he added.

Nides rejected an allegation by Netanyahu’s son Yair, that the US State Department was funding the anti-judicial reform protests.

He called the claim “absurd” and “ridiculous,” adding that it was not true.

When asked about Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Nides said, “I liked the defense minister a great deal. He is a smart, shrewd guy. He is a great defense minister.”

Nides spoke as Netanyahu is weighing whether to make good on his statement that he planned to fire Gallant for speaking out against the judicial reform process.

As reported by The Jerusalem Post