Jeffries tells Netanyahu that he hopes the PM will seek a broad consensus on judicial reform
Jeffries is making his second trip to Israel since become House minority leader
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House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting in Jerusalem on Monday that he hoped the current government would seek “a broad consensus across the ideological spectrum” before any further changes are made relating to its plans to overhaul the country’s judiciary.
Jeffries, along with Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), is in Israel this week leading a delegation of House Democrats as part of the AIPAC-linked American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF).
Speaking to journalists at a press conference at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem following the group’s meeting with the prime minister, Jeffries said that despite recent steps taken by Netanyahu’s government, including passing legislation last month that weakens the power of the judiciary on overruling government decisions, “we can continue to lean into the shared democratic values related to the judiciary, which is based on the principles of a respect for the rule of law, and an independent judiciary that serves as a check and balance on other parts of the government.”
Less than 12 hours earlier, however, in an interview with Bloomberg TV, Netanyahu said that he plans to move forward with part of the controversial reforms dealing with the composition of the committee that appoints judges.
“From my perspective, it’s not my job to articulate the precise contours of what judicial reform should look like here in Israel,” Jeffries said. “That’s for the Israeli people to decide through their elected representatives and through their actions to petition the government to perhaps go in a different direction based on what we’ve seen, with hundreds of thousands of Israeli citizens protesting week after week in the streets of this country.”
Asked if he believed President Joe Biden might soon invite Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader, to the White House, Jeffries declined to comment on the administration’s future plans but said that “it’s clear to me, both based on President Biden’s public comments and his long-standing support for the State of Israel, that he will continue to stand unequivocally with Israel and his right to exist as a Jewish democratic state.”
“The Democratic Party in the House of Representatives will continue to stand with Israel in lifting up the special relationship between our two countries and in support of Israel’s right to exist as a homeland for the Jewish people,” Jeffries emphasized, adding “every opportunity that we’ve had to make that clear, including most recently, with a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives, there has been overwhelming bipartisan support for the State of Israel.”
Jeffries, who has visited Israel seven times — including a trip earlier this year — said that delegations to Israel are important opportunities for members of Congress — and particularly for those who are new to the House of Representatives — to experience Israel and the West Bank.
A majority of the trip’s 25 participants are freshmen House members.
Jeffries told journalists that his group — which includes a number of progressive lawmakers — raised concerns with Netanyahu during their meeting about a recent rise in violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians and Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis.
“We wanted to get the prime minister’s perspective on how this issue could complicate efforts to eventually achieve peace in the region,” Jeffries explained. “Prime Minister Netanyahu made it clear to us that he doesn’t condone violence, no matter where it originates, and I take him at his word.”
“At the end of the day, there is a strong interest in our congressional delegation of getting to a place where we can first proceed toward a viable path to a two-state solution, recognizing that we are not at that place right now,” he added. “It’s important for many of us within the Congress that the hope of a lasting peace with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side with two states – [an] Israeli state that is safe and secure and the military demilitarized Palestinian state that allows for the aspirations for self-determination by the Palestinian people.”
Jeffries said he was hopeful that the current U.S. administration would be able to expand the Abraham Accords “to the extent that normalization can be brought about between Israel and Saudi Arabia, facilitated in large measure by the United States of America.”
“In my view, that would represent a monumental step forward,” he continued. “The Abraham Accords represented a significant and meaningful step forward toward peace between Arabs and Israelis in the region and throughout the world.”
Jeffries said that the details of what might bring about normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia would “have to be evaluated on the merits,” although he said no specifics were discussed during the meeting with Netanyahu.
There was a general discussion, he said, of some of the requests being made by Saudi Arabia, which include those relating to defense cooperation, security assistance and Saudi Arabia’s civil nuclear program.
“It appears to me, based on the conversations I’ve had with members across the ideological spectrum in the House, that a robust agreement that takes us toward normalization would be positively viewed by a significant majority of people within the House of Representatives,” he said.