Nides: ‘Democracy is alive and well in the State of Israel’

The U.S. ambassador to Israel brushed off concerns that Israeli democracy has been imperiled amid the recent turmoil surrounding Israeli judicial reform efforts

Marc Rod

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides addresses reception for the Israeli delegation to the SelectUSA investment summit, May 3, 2023

U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said Tuesday evening at the Israeli Embassy in Washington that Israel and its democracy remain strong and stable amid ongoing disputes over Israeli judicial reform efforts.

“Israel is going through a fairly complicated time the last two or three months. I tell people, when they come to me and say, ‘Oh my God, things are on fire,’ I say, ‘What are you talking about?’” Nides said. “Listen, the reality of this is, this is a living breathing democracy in Israel, make no mistake… Democracy is alive and well in the state of Israel.”

Nides was addressing a reception for the Israeli delegation to the SelectUSA investment summit, which seeks to promote foreign direct investment in the U.S. Investment and business development officials from federal, state and local governments were also in attendance.

Offering a similar argument to other pro-Israel Democrats, Nides said that the ongoing protests both against and in favor of judicial reform, which have resulted in a relatively low volume of arrests, violence and destruction, are proof of the strength of Israeli democracy. 

Nides’ comments appear to repudiate warnings from some Democrats that the judicial reform plan could imperil Israeli democracy or the U.S.-Israel relationship, which he described as “unbreakable.”

“This relationship between the United States and Israel is — I knew it was strong, because I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t — but I didn’t know how strong it was,” he continued. “It’s who we are as people, it’s why we love Israel so much. And by the way, you can also disagree with people, even though you love them.”

Nides had said in February, before the judicial reform legislation was paused, that the Biden administration believed Israel’s “democratic institutions are under stress and strain” and warned that the reform efforts could potentially damage Israel’s economy, prompting backlash from Israeli Diaspora Minister Amichai Chikli.

The 33 companies in the Israeli SelectUSA delegation were chosen by Nides to participate in the conference, and he said he was “in awe” of them. The ambassador emphasized the U.S. and Israel’s mutual interest in Israel’s economic success.

“Ultimately, the economic success of Israel is all of our success. And not only is it important to America, but it’s important to Israel, given that Israel is, if not the most important strategic partner in the world, it’s certainly one of [them], and certainly the most important in the Middle East,” he said. “So having Israel be a strong, democratic Jewish state is good for us, it’s good for the Israelis, and it’s also good for the Jews.”

He said that he believes that Israel’s mandatory military service helps inculcate Israel’s “start up nation” ethos. “It creates, in my view, not only this entrepreneur spirit, but this drive and the success and, yes, this risk-taking.”

Nides also said he was “honored” to participate, alongside former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, in the March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau to commemorate Yom HaShoah. “If you’ve never done it, I encourage you to do it, because it’s just beyond words,” he said.

Israeli Deputy Chief of Mission Eliav Benjamin said in remarks that the reception represented a celebration of “the strong ties between Israel and the United States” and praised the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, the U.S. Department of Commerce and Israeli embassy staff for their work to strengthen bilateral relations.

The 75th anniversary of U.S.-Israel relations is “a testament to the enduring friendship between our two nations and the shared values that have brought us together,” Benjamin said. “The future is bright, and if history is any indication, our long-standing friendship will continue to provide mutual benefits and innovations for generations to come.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.