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David Friedman: Netanyahu gov’t open ‘to compromise’ on some areas of judicial reform

The former U.S. ambassador to Israel first addressed judicial reform at a conference in Tel Aviv last week

Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the 2019 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.

David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel in the Trump administration, told Jewish Insider on Wednesday that he believes Israel’s right-wing governing coalition has grown receptive to compromising on elements of a proposed judicial overhaul that has sparked mass protests in recent weeks.

“I have met privately with many Israeli leaders, and I will keep those discussions private,” Friedman said in an email to JI. “However, I do believe that there is a receptiveness in the government to compromise on some of the judicial reform issues, including the override clause,” which would allow the Israeli government to block Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority of votes. “I’ll leave it at that for now.”

Friedman, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has voiced strong reservations over the Israeli leader’s effort to advance legislation that critics have cautioned will neuter the Supreme Court and affect Israel’s status as a democratic state.

The former ambassador expressed his opposition to the overhaul at an off-the-record forum hosted by the Tikvah Fund and the Hertog Foundation in Tel Aviv last week, arguing that the override clause in particular had gone “too far” and, if implemented, would weaken the protection of minority rights, according to Axios, which first reported the comments on Wednesday. 

Friedman, who did not deny the report, steered clear of elaborating on his concerns about minority rights in the email to JI. In comments to the Times of Israel on Wednesday, he explained that preserving such rights is “an important aspect of the U.S. government and should be for any government.”

Friedman said in his email to JI that he is optimistic that Israel “will survive this crisis as it has survived so many others in the past,” but acknowledged that “it pains me greatly to see such bitterness between the parties.”

“I know that Israel greatly admires America, but the current political divide in Israel unfortunately is an American feature that Israel should try less to emulate,” he told JI. “Israel has lots of external challenges and it cannot afford to appear this divided.”

Echoing Israeli President Isaac Herzog, who has called for compromise on the judicial overhaul while warning of its consequences, Friedman said he believes that “each side has valid issues,” adding that “it behooves all of Israel’s political leaders to work harder to find a solution,” 

“Israel’s greatest quality is its unity within diversity,” he said, “and I hope and pray that it is preserved.”

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