Jan 31, 2023 - Podcasts

U.S. worries over Israel's democracy

Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Jerusalem on Monday, where he weighed in on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a judicial overhaul.

  • Plus, the future of private spaceflight.
  • And, a very rare green comet appears in the night skies.

Guests: Axios' Barak Ravid and Miriam Kramer

Credits: Axios Today is produced by Niala Boodhoo, Alexandra Botti, Naomi Shavin, Fonda Mwangi and Alex Sugiura. Music is composed by Evan Viola. You can reach us at [email protected]. You can text questions, comments and story ideas to Niala as a text or voice memo to 202-918-4893.

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NIALA: Good morning! Welcome to Axios Today!

It’s Tuesday, January 31st.

I’m Niala Boodhoo.

Here’s what we’re covering today: the future of private spaceflight. Plus, a very rare green comet appears in the night skies. But first, the U.S. worries over Israel’s democracy. That’s today’s One Big Thing.

The U.S. worries over Israel’s democracy

NIALA: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Jerusalem yesterday, where he weighed in on Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a judicial overhaul. Blinken urged the prime minister to build a broad consensus before moving ahead on the plan which has caused mass protests in Israel.

Blinken also stressed the need for calm after days of deadly violence between Israelis and Palestinians.

For more on what’s unfolding in Israel, and the U.S. role, is Axios’ Barak Ravid – he’s on the road reporting in Jerusalem…Barak, can you remind us what Netanyahu has been doing to the judicial system in Israel.

BARAK RAVID: Hi, Niala. Well, I think that what we've seen here is a blitz of proposed legislation that is basically aimed at weakening the Supreme Court, and the judicial system, more broadly. And it was expected, but I think no one expected that it would happen so fast and in such a strong and brutal way. And even though, those are just proposals for now and the legislation is just being discussed right now in the Knesset in the Israeli parliament. It is very clear that Netanya and his coalition want to push this in a very, very short order.

NIALA: So can you share what Blinken said and why the U.S. is weighing in?

BARAK: Until three weeks ago, this issue wasn't even on the radar of the Biden administration. I think that many, many U.S. officials wanted to sidestep this issue, not to weigh in, uh, not to get involved, hoping that somehow it'll go away. But I think that as time passed and uh, hundreds of thousands of Israelis went to demonstrate for four weeks in a row, I think the Biden administration realized it can't stay on the fence and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan came to Israel 10 days ago. He raised this issue in private with Netanyahu, but then I think that maybe the Biden administration thought that the message didn't really go through well enough. And, you know, Anthony Blinken, he's a polite Secretary of State. He speaks very, very softly. But I think that what he did in this statement was to, very politely and very softly, tell Netanyahu listen, this thing cannot continue as it is because we are against it. And if you wanna do it, you will need to get a broad consensus, and soften this very, very brutal judicial overhaul, your planning.

NIALA: Yeah and let’s hear a little of what else Secretary Blinken said…

ANTHONY BLINKEN: The relationship between our countries, what we come back to time and again, is that it is rooted both in shared interests and shared values. That includes our support for core democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, the equal administration of justice, for all the equal rights of minority groups, the rule of law, free press, a robust civil society.

BARAK: You know, I was shocked, frankly, that we reached a point where the Secretary of State of the United States needs to stand with the Prime Minister of Israel and basically give them a civics lesson on what democracy means and what are the shared democratic values of Israel and the U.S. You know, he, he, and he went, you know, he really went to details, you know, freedom of the press. Minority rights, human rights, all those things that I think the Biden administration thinks that if the plan goes through, will be, will be damaged,

NIALA: Turning to the violence between Israelis and Palestinians in recent days – what is the latest there?

BARAK: Yeah. The problem is that on the Palestinian side, you have a crippled Palestinian authority that is losing its control on more and more parts of its, you know, quasi territory. And you have in Israel, a radical far-right government, uh, that doesn't seem to be, uh, really interested in strengthening the Palestinian authority. And that in its policies could, only, increase the tensions, and it's a very dangerous situation and it doesn't take for this whole thing to explode. We are, we're basically on a regular day, we're on a powder keg and now more than ever.

NIALA: Barak Ravid is Axios’ correspondent in Tel Aviv – joining us from the road in Jerusalem…thanks Barak.

BARAK: Thanks Niala.

A very rare green comet appears in the night skies

NIALA: Turning to the skies now…where a rare green comet is visible this week – for the first time in 50,000 years.

NASA estimates that the last time this comet passed this close to earth was during the Neanderthal age. The comet looks green because of poisonous gasses near its middle, diatomic carbon and cyanogen gas.

You can see the comet now, but it will be brightest when it passes closest to the Earth between tomorrow and Thursday, so for those of us in this hemisphere - heading out Wednesday night may be your best bet. The darkest conditions will make for the clearest view, as will binoculars or a telescope.

NIALA: In a moment: more on space…with the future of private spaceflight.


The future of private spaceflight

NIALA: Welcome back to Axios Today. I'm Niala Boodhoo.

This year a ban regulating the safety of private rockets is set to expire, which could be a game changer for the human space flight industry. Companies like Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX are of course already sending private customers into space, but with new protections, how will this change the industry? Here to give us the big picture is Axios’ Miriam Kramer. Hi Miriam

MIRIAM KRAMER: Hi, thanks for having me.

NIALA: First, Miriam, I think we need to understand what exactly this ban is and what happens when it expires?

MIRIAM: Yeah, so this is broadly called the learning period, uh, for the private human space flight industry. Basically starting in 2004, Congress gave the FAA permission to effectively regulate the space flight industry. But they also said you cannot enact regulations to basically protect the safety of the people flying inside of these spacecraft.

So the folks choosing to fly, they fly under what's called a regime of informed consent, which is basically that these companies have to inform their passengers of all of the risks of flying to space, and then they can decide whether they still wanna do it or not. In October, the moratorium, so this learning period, is set to expire. It's possible Congress could extend it again, but it's looking pretty likely that it will expire. And then the FAA will be granted the authority to regulate the industry for safety as they see fit.

NIALA: So this fall, if the FAA does begin to regulate private space flight, what might that look like?

MIRIAM: It could be anything from more prescriptive regulations, which is something that the industry really doesn't want, that are kind of saying, okay, you must have this button or this lever, or something like that. Or it might be a little bit more of a gentle touch, something to start a framework around in case there is an accident, which in all likelihood, there will be one day. And I think what everybody kind of wants to avoid when it comes to space flight, is a large high profile accident that would lead to effectively the end of the industry.

NIALA: Miriam, as you look at 2023 for private space flight, what are you watching for this year?

MIRIAM: I think that actually this year is gonna be marked by consistency. The past couple of years we've seen splashy big new systems coming online. We've seen like Jeff Bezos fly to space, we've seen, uh, Richard Branson fly to space. And now I think it's time to show that the market demand is there for these systems and that they can fly consistently. It's not just about those big, showy moments that's not what an industry is built off of. An industry is built off going to space consistently, safely, and with the backing of customers effectively.

NIALA: Miriam Kramer covers space for Axios. Thanks, Miriam.

MIRIAM: Thanks for having me.

NIALA: That’s it for us today! You can reach our team at podcasts at axios dot com or you can also text me feedback or story ideas at (202) 918-4893.

I’m Niala Boodhoo - thanks for listening - stay safe and we’ll see you back here tomorrow morning.

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