Mar 1, 2023 - World

Scoop: Trump's former ambassador to Israel slams Bibi's judicial overhaul plan

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

Then-U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem on Dec. 21, 2020. Photo: Maya Alleruzzo/AFP via Getty Images

Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman used a recent conservative conference in Tel Aviv to express concern and push back against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan, according to two people with direct knowledge of the issue.

Why it matters: Friedman was one of former President Trump’s close confidants and remains close to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His support is incredibly important to the Israeli right.

Driving the news: Friedman made the remarks last week at a national security conference hosted by the Tikvah Fund and the Hertog Foundation — two U.S.-based conservative institutions that also fund and cooperate with Israeli conservative groups and think tanks.

  • Speakers included former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu and Simcha Rothman, the chairman of the Knesset’s judicial and legislative committee who will continue to play a key role in pushing through different pieces of legislation that are part of the plan.

Behind the scenes: According to a person who was in the room and took notes and another person who was briefed on what happened, about 80 people attended the session, including many right-wing conservatives and Americans.

  • During the session, Rothman said the judicial plan is only aimed at making the Israeli judicial system more like that of the U.S. on issues like appointing judges, according to the sources, who requested anonymity because the conference was not open to the public.
  • At that point, Friedman raised his hand and asked to comment, the sources said. When he was called on, Friedman criticized Rothman and the judicial plan.
  • Friedman, who was at one time Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer, pushed back on Rothman’s claim that the plan will make Israel's judicial system more like that of the U.S., stressing the situation in the U.S. is very different, the sources said.
  • According to the source in the room, Friedman said he was in favor of judicial reform in Israel but that the government’s plan “was going too far for me and for many Americans” because it will harm the court’s ability to protect minority rights.

Friedman focused his criticism on the override clause that will allow the Israeli government to bypass Supreme Court rulings with a simple 61-member majority, both sources said.

  • Friedman said in the U.S., the courts exist to protect minority rights and the override clause will prevent the Israeli courts from doing the same, according to the sources. “You compare this to the U.S., but it doesn’t work like that in our system," he told Rothman, per the source in the room.
  • When Friedman finished speaking, dozens of people in the crowd started clapping enthusiastically, according to the sources. Rothman responded by saying the Knesset will protect minority rights. “He looked embarrassed," one of the sources said.
  • Others in the room also criticized Rothman and asked why the government needed an override clause if it will have a majority that will allow him to appoint judges. The sources said Rothman replied that the appointment of new judges will take time and the government “can’t wait."
  • Friedman declined Axios' request for comment.

State of play: The first package of laws that is part of the judicial plan passed last week in the first reading in the Knesset.

  • Netanyahu called for negotiations with the opposition on getting a consensus around the plan but rejected requests to suspend the legislative process to create space for talks.
  • Thousands of Israelis protested against the plan on Wednesday in what organizers called “the day of dysfunction."
  • Several dozen roads were blocked by protesters across Israel. In Tel Aviv, the police cracked down on the protesters with stun grenades, water cannons and horses. At least 15 protesters were wounded.
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