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US-Israel tensions: Harris criticizes judicial overhaul, receives rebuke from Israel

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Israeli regime in Washington, DC, on June 6, 2023. (Photo by AFP)

US Vice President Kamala Harris has officially joined critics of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial judicial overhaul and urged the regime to ensure the independence of its judiciary while an Israeli minister censured her comments.

Speaking at a ceremony organized by Israel’s embassy in Washington on the 75th anniversary of the regime’s founding on Tuesday, Harris said what she called Israel’s democracy required “an independent judiciary”. Her remarks on the judiciary received applause from the audience.

Harris also reiterated Washington's claim on supporting an independent Palestinian state, saying that Israelis and Palestinians should "enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy."

This is while the US administration has been one of the staunch supporters of the occupying regime and its apartheid policies. Observers believe Washington's measures in the past few years, including moving the embassy to occupied al-Quds and backing illegal settlement projects, have further emboldened the regime. 

Meanwhile, Israeli foreign minister Eli Cohen was quick to slam Harris's remarks about the far-right cabinet's policies, saying she was perhaps not fully aware of the details of the judicial changes that the far-right cabinet was pursuing.

"If you ask her what troubles her about the reform she may not be able to cite even one clause that bothers her," Cohen told the regime's public broadcaster Kan on Wednesday. "I don't know whether she read the bill, my estimation is that she has not."

Netanyahu, leading the most right-wing regime in Israel’s history, has proposed curtailing the authority of the Supreme Court and giving politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.

Critics see the plan as a threat to the independence of the courts by the prime minister, who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies.

The plan, if approved by the Knesset, would strip the regime's Supreme Court of the power to veto politicians' decisions. The political figures would also gain more control over the process of choosing the court's judges.

Netanyahu's cabinet, a mix of his Likud Party and hard-right and ultra-Orthodox allies, claims that the overhaul is needed to end decades of judicial meddling, while critics say the changes threaten to usher in a "dictatorship."

Netanyahu, feeling the heat from the public outcry, paused the plan in late March, but his radical cabinet has pledged to push ahead with it.

He also faced pressure from the US to drop the reforms. A few months ago, Biden said that he was "very concerned" about Netanyahu's proposal, leading to rebukes from some of Netanyahu’s right-wing allies.

The US has had tense relations with the regime since President Joe Biden took office in January 2021. Biden is yet to extend a White House invitation to Netanyahu, who returned to power in Israel in December.

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