President Joe Biden will soon host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House despite alarm among many Israelis and Americans about Netanyahu’s attempts to expand his power by weakening Israel’s judiciary.
Tom Nides, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, suggested a visit was imminent in an interview with Israeli radio on Tuesday — just hours after Netanyahu said he would slow down his power grab.
“He obviously will be coming … I assume after Passover,” Nides told Israel’s Army Radio, referring to next month’s Jewish holiday. “There’s no question that the prime minister will come and see President Biden. They have been friends for 40 years.”
The Biden administration has been cautious in its criticism of the Israeli leader, even as tens of thousands of Israelis have protested Netanyahu’s judicial plan and experts have warned it could permit corruption and dangerous far-right policies. Netanyahu’s critics and many Democratic lawmakers say the president should be more assertive ― both for the sake of Israel’s future stability and because of Biden’s own promises to promote democratic values worldwide.
John Kirby, a White House national security spokesman, told reporters on Monday that Biden wants a “compromise” between the Israeli leader and his opponents. He declined to say whether Netanyahu would still participate virtually in the Biden administration’s Summit for Democracy conference this week.
“The United States shouldn’t be prescribing that Israelis out in the streets to save their democracy meet Netanyahu part of the way in his bid to undo it,” Dylan Williams of the influential Jewish American group J Street tweeted on Monday. Biden “should be standing in solidarity with them and let them decide their path forward,” he said.
The news of the likely visit came after the Biden administration had for months been vague about when Netanyahu might receive an invitation to the White House. Nides suggested to the New York Times that a date had not yet been decided and the visit ultimately could be canceled.
Netanyahu and his hardline allies still plan to push through their judicial changes later this year to give the parliament far greater power over judges. And while Netanyahu appeared to make a concession over the plan by announcing a halt, his controversial coalition partner Itamar Ben Gvir said he got an olive branch too: the establishment of a new national guard under his direct control. Ben Gvir is a previously fringe figure who has been convicted for supporting a Jewish terror group and for inciting racism against Palestinians.
While facing charges of bribery and fraud ― which he denies ― Netanyahu regained Israel’s top job in December 2022 by forming an alliance with Ben Gvir and other politicians who had long been shunned by the Israeli mainstream.