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JERUSALEM — Israel Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Wednesday accused Vice President Kamala Harris of being clueless about the judicial reform process unfolding in the Jewish state in the latest clash between the Biden administration and Israel’s conservative government over internal domestic polices in the Mideast country.
In a response to Harris’s speech Tuesday at Israel’s embassy in Washington, D.C., where she stated that Israel’s democracy requires an “independent judiciary,” Cohen countered to Israeli public broadcaster Kan news, “If we were to ask Kamala Harris what bothers her about the reform, she wouldn’t be able to name a single clause.
“I don’t know whether she read the bill. My estimation is that she has not.”
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U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaking at a reception to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel. (Reuters)
Harris delivered her comments at a reception celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding hosted by the country’s embassy in Washington. Harris’ remarks about reform drew applause.
Later Wednesday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry walked back the tone of Cohen’s comments in tweets written in both English and Hebrew. However, he stressed that the effort to reform Israel’s judiciary is an internal matter for the country’s democracy.
Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen listens to Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu during a joint press conference after their talks in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 14, 2023. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici, File)
“I have deep respect for our ally the United States of America and for Vice President Harris, a true friend of Israel. Israel’s legal reform is an internal issue that is currently in the process of consolidation and dialogue,” Cohen wrote on Twitter. “The State of Israel will continue to be democratic and liberal, as it has always been.”
Jason Greenblatt, former White House Envoy to the Middle East and author of the book “In the Path of Abraham,” told Fox News Digital Monday, “The Biden administration continues to put pressure on the Israeli government to abandon its judicial reform plans. This is blatant interference with another country’s internal policies.
“Israel has a robust democracy. The world has seen this with the massive protests for and against judicial reform. The Biden administration continues to think that America can dictate what its allies’ policies should be. This kind of pressure by the U.S. upon other countries’ internal matters failed with Saudi Arabia, and it will fail with Israel.”
The administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to overhaul the judiciary to shift more power away from the Supreme Court to the country’s parliament (the Knesset). Opponents of judicial reform view the legal reform process as an effort to weaken checks and balances in Israel.
Harris said during her speech Tuesday that “America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies, which as the (Israeli) ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances. And, I’ll add, an independent judiciary.”
Harris also reiterated the Biden administration’s “ironclad commitment to the security of Israel.”
The judicial reform process has sparked dueling mass protests among Israelis for and against the overhaul. For over twenty weeks, the activists who reject the reform process have consistently demonstrated on the weekend.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog, whose office is largely symbolic, is engaged in efforts to reach a compromise between Netanyahu’s administration and the opposition in the Knesset over judicial reform.
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A young man sits on a traffic light over a crowd of pro-reform protestors in Jerusalem April 27, 2023. Over 200,000 people demonstrated in support of the Israeli government and it’s controversial legal overhaul in front of the Knesset. (Matan Golan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
U.S. Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides stressed that Harris is a “strong supporter of Israel” in comments made to Israeli news organization Channel 12 after Cohen’s criticism of the vice president.
“I have respect for Cohen, but the vice president said things the administration says on every opportunity regarding our shared values and policies,” Nides noted.
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A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry declined to comment to Fox News Digital about the matter. Press queries sent to the U.S. State Department, Vice President Harris’ office and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem were not returned.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Benjamin Weinthal reports on Israel, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Europe for Fox News Digital. Benjamin has contributed articles to The Wall Street Journal, The Jerusalem Post, Foreign Policy, Haaretz, Forbes and The New York Post. You can follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.