heard on the trail

Adam Schiff addresses Israel’s proposed judicial reforms in Senate candidate forum 

In an event hosted by Democrats for Israel California, Schiff supports Biden’s recent conversation with Netanyahu about the Israeli government’s plan

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) waves to supporters outside the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Union Hall, at the kickoff rally for his two-week ‘California for All Tour’, on February 11, 2023, in Burbank, Calif.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), a leading candidate for Senate in California, said during a virtual forum with pro-Israel activists on Monday that he was “proud” that President Joe Biden had recently “weighed in and tried to encourage” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reach a potential compromise as Netanyahu’s governing coalition moves forward on legislation to overhaul Israel’s judicial system.

“I think that’s in the best traditions of our country,” Schiff explained in a candidate event hosted by the advocacy group Democrats for Israel California, referring to a phone conversation on Sunday in which Biden and Netanyahu reportedly discussed the Israeli government’s controversial judicial reform plans for the first time. “And that is, to work with our allies, not only to help them protect their own democracy, but to make sure that we’re protecting ours.”

In recent weeks, Schiff, a Jewish Democrat from the Los Angeles area, has joined a chorus of Democrats who, in addition to Biden, have weighed in over proposals by Israel’s right-wing governing coalition — and he expanded on those sentiments on Monday evening while speaking via Zoom to a group of pro-Israel Democrats in California.

“I share the concerns that have been raised about these potential reforms of the Supreme Court or the diminution of the court’s ability to strike down laws that are unconstitutional or that are protective of minorities within Israel,” Schiff said of the proposed legislation, which has sparked mass protests across Israel. 

He also said he was “deeply concerned about some of the personnel that are part of” the coalition and voiced concern “that we are moving farther and farther away from a two-state solution instead of closer to it,” which he said “would be disastrous for the region.”

The 11-term lawmaker, who has long been recognized as an outspoken supporter of Israel, clarified that the “strong relationship” between the U.S. and Israel “needs to continue and needs to be defended,” he told voters on Monday. 

“But at the same time, that doesn’t mean a blind acceptance of every policy of Israel,” Schiff argued. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that we can’t be critical of a policy direction of one of our allies. Indeed, I think if we’re going to be a good ally, it means we need to speak candidly, and we need to express hard truths.”

Elaborating on that balance, Schiff said has always tried to “be a consistent supporter” of the Jewish state while using his position in Congress to promote diplomacy between Israelis and Palestinians. “That has been the predominant challenge over the years, and now there is a challenge to Israel’s democracy,” he observed. 

Even as he expressed concerns over Israel’s rightward turn, Schiff, who served as the manager of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment trial and helped investigate the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, said he acknowledged that the U.S. is by no means immune from criticism. “Frankly, we are in a much diminished position,” he said. “All too often now, other countries can point to the United States and say, essentially, ‘Who are you to talk?’”

Schiff, who has cast himself as a bulwark of sorts against the erosion of democratic norms, said that “of all of the corrosive conduct of the last administration,” referring to Trump, “perhaps the most damaging to our democracy was this relentless assault on the truth.”

“I think that Jews understand as much as anyone, and perhaps better than most, what the consequences are of a country moving towards authoritarianism,” he said in the forum. “For a long time I rejected the comparisons to the 1930s. But there have been too many parallels we’ve seen over the last several years to the 1930s.”

Schiff, who is one of three Democrats now running to succeed outgoing Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), was the first candidate to address Democrats for Israel California as part of a planned candidate series that will continue in the coming weeks. The group also intends to hold virtual conversations with each of Schiff’s opponents, Reps. Katie Porter (D-CA) and Barbara Lee (D-CA), according to Andrew Lachman, the president and the moderator of Monday’s forum. 

Lachman said that Porter would tentatively be addressing the group next week, on March 28, and that Lee had yet to confirm a time to speak.

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