U.S. lawmakers: Israeli judicial reform debate has raised concerns for Israeli security

‘I’m concerned that this effort to reform the judiciary… has had an effect of weakening the security apparatus,’ Sen. Lindsey Graham said

(AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Israeli military reservists protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday, March 22, 2023.

U.S. lawmakers — including some who have not publicly discussed Israel’s judicial reform plans — said on Monday that the debate around Israel’s judicial reform efforts has raised concerns about Israel’s national security.

The new comments come in the wake of several days of developments, including the firing of Israel’s defense minister, growing dissent among Israeli Defense Forces reservists, a general strike that shut down Israel’s embassy in Washington and other diplomatic outposts, spontaneous street protests and ultimately, an announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would suspend the reform plans. The comments are the first on the situation from some stalwart supporters of the U.S.-Israel relationship who have thus far refrained from speaking out about the reform efforts.

“I’m concerned that this effort to reform the judiciary — which is up to them — has had an effect of weakening the security apparatus,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), a longtime Netanyahu ally, told Jewish Insider Monday evening. “I am glad Bibi wanted to try to find a compromise and take the time out… Their security has been affected by all this domestic drama.”

Graham emphasized that he did not intend to dictate to Israel how it should proceed on the judicial reform, adding, “what I am worried about is Iran. And as we get into all these arguments in our backyard, that we’re giving oxygen and space for bad guys to do bad things.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), the vice chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he was also concerned about the security situation, while declining to speak about the proposed reforms directly.

“The military people are refusing to show up to work and stuff — that’s concerning,” he told JI. “I think it encourages Israel’s adversaries to potentially strike against them.”

Sen. Richard Blumental (D-CT), a Jewish Democrat who was prominent in the 2021 push to secure additional aid for Israel’s Iron Dome system, told JI that he has met with members of both the Israeli and U.S. militaries “who definitely feel security issues may be implicated.”

Blumenthal added that he does not think the U.S. should dictate Israel’s internal affairs but, highlighting his background as a U.S. attorney and state attorney general, said he would not be “in favor of giving our Congress an override authority [over the U.S. Supreme Court] or changing the way we select our Supreme Court justices — just speaking about this country.” He also said that his views are changing by the day as the situation develops.

Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s mideast subcommittee, told reporters that he was not informed enough to judge the merits of the proposed reforms, but said the overall circumstances have produced a “really concerning situation” due to their “national security implications.”

Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC), a former chair of the Jewish Federations of North America and a staunch pro-Israel Democrat, on Monday evening offered her first public comments on the judicial reform push.

“I’m extremely happy that Prime Minister Netanyahu made the decision to put this whole judicial reform process on hold, to let things calm down,” she said. “I’m hopeful that there will be a lot of thought put into how to move forward, and I’m hopeful that there will be a compromise and that the people who have been in the streets protesting feel that they’ve been heard… I hope that the cooler heads will prevail.”

Manning said she’d refrained from speaking out publicly about the situation because she has urged the administration to keep its “tough conversations” with Israel and other allies behind closed doors, but said she’d had private conversations about the reform effort with Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Herzog and “a variety of other people who I’ve felt I should share my thoughts with.”

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) joined a statement Monday evening with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) — a frequent critic of Israeli policy who has recently floated the idea of conditioning aid to Israel — praising the decision to pause the legislative effort.

“We welcome Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to postpone consideration of judicial reforms,” the statement read. “Shared democratic values have long underpinned the U.S.-Israel relationship, and we hope this delay provides an opportunity to work towards a compromise and de-escalation of the current crisis.”

Murphy chairs the Foreign Relations Middle East subcommittee, and Romney is a member.

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