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Netanyahu dismisses "pressures" after Biden suggests he ditch legal overhaul

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu responded Tuesday to a suggestion from President Biden that his government "walks away" from controversial judicial overhaul plans, which have drawn an unprecedented backlash within Israel, by saying the country makes its own decisions.

"Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends," Netanyahu tweeted.

Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.

— Benjamin Netanyahu - בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 28, 2023

On Tuesday, Mr. Biden said he was "concerned" about the situation in Israel, where protests against the proposed judicial overhaul escalated this week. Critics say the changes planned by Netanyahu's far-right coalition government would undermine the independence of Israel's supreme court and destroy the country's system of legislative checks and balances.

"Like many strong supporters of Israel, I'm very concerned, and I'm concerned that they get this straight," Mr. Biden told journalists. "They cannot continue down this road, and I've sort of made that clear. Hopefully the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen."

When asked about reports that he would soon be inviting Netanyahu to the White House, Mr. Biden said, "No. Not in the near term."

Later Tuesday, the U.S. president said he hopes Netanyahu "walks away" from the judicial overhaul legislation.

The atypically terse exchange between the leaders of the U.S. and Israel came just a day after some of the biggest protests in Israel's history. Thousands took to the streets, furious over Netanyahu's weekend decision to fire his defense chief over comments suggesting, as Mr. Biden did later, that the judiciary reforms should be shelved.

Facing not only the street protests, but a massive national labor strike over the move, Netanyahu backed down Monday night and announced a delay of the process to enact the legislation.

In a televised address, the Israeli leader said he was "not willing to tear the nation in half," and that, "when there's a possibility of avoiding fraternal war through dialogue, I, as prime minister, will take a time out for that dialogue."

Israel Evangelicals
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, March 19, 2023. Abir Sultan/AP

Netanyahu made it clear Tuesday, however, that his government was delaying the judicial overhaul, not abandoning it.

"My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus," he tweeted.

  • Democracy
  • Israel
  • Joe Biden
  • Middle East
  • Benjamin Neta​nyahu
Haley Ott

Haley Ott is a digital reporter/producer for CBS News based in London.

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