White House urges compromise amid protests, judicial reform clash in Israel

WASHINGTON —The Biden administration weighed in Sunday night on the unfolding chaos and the state of democracy in Israel, saying it was “deeply concerned” after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu abruptly ousted an opponent of his controversial judicial reforms.

“We are deeply concerned by today’s developments out of Israel, which further underscore the urgent need for compromise,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.  “Democratic values have always been, and must remain, a hallmark of the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

It follows a phone call between President Joe Biden and Netanyahu a week ago, in which the U.S. president stressed the importance of democracy.

“Democratic societies are strengthened by checks and balances, and fundamental changes to a democratic system should be pursued with the broadest possible base of popular support,” the White House said in its Sunday statement.

A line of protesters supporting women's rights dressed as characters from The Handmaid's Tale television series and other Israelis protest against plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to overhaul the judicial system in Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday, March 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty) ORG XMIT: XOB101

Earlier, Netanyahu fired his defense minister after the high-ranking official called for a pause on a controversial judicial reform proposal that has fueled months of intense protests in the country and abroad. In response, swarms of protesters took to the streets, starting bonfires on a Tel Aviv highway and knocking down a police barricade outside Netanyahu’s home.

The escalating tensions came after the defense minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Saturday night that Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul posed a security threat to Israel. Military reservists have refused to sign up for duty and many more have threatened to do the same. Israel’s consul general in New York resigned in protest. 

In addition to the nighttime protests in Israel, a powerful trade union was expected to call for a general strike and universities were cancelling classes. 

While the Israeli government was expected to move forward this week with its controversial plan, the U.S. on Sunday pressed or a quick de-escalation.

“We continue to strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible,” the White House said. “We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens. U.S. support for Israel’s security and democracy remains ironclad.”

Dig deeper:Protesters flood the streets of Israel after Netanyahu fires minister opposed to controversial reforms

Contributing: Associated Pres

Francesca Chambers is a White House Correspondent for USA TODAY. Follow her on Twitter @fran_chambers.

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