WASHINGTON (JTA) — Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the powerful House Appropriations Committee, is spearheading a letter from Democrats urging President Joe Biden to “use all diplomatic tools available” to get Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt his controversial legislation to sap the power of Israel’s top court.
The letter also opposes any potential Israeli annexation of West Bank territory and supports the creation of a Palestinian state alongside Israel.
The signers express “our deep concern regarding the planned changes to the structure of the Israeli judiciary, the fragile security situation in the West Bank, and the threat of partial or full annexation of areas that would most certainly be part of a future Palestinian state,” according to a copy that the Jewish Telegraphic Agency obtained before DeLauro’s deadline to obtain signatures. “We urge you to use all diplomatic tools available to prevent Israel’s current government from further damaging the nation’s democratic institutions and undermining the potential for two states for two peoples.”
The letter is notable for its alarmed tone. It also underscores Democratic concern at the direction of Netanyahu’s new governing coalition, which includes far-right politicians, and his plans to reform the country’s court system. The legislation being advanced by Netanyahu’s government would allow a majority of lawmakers to override Supreme Court decisions and would give the governing coalition full power over appointing the court’s judges. In the face of widespread protest of the plan, Israel’s president is urging a compromise.
The letter also addresses escalating violence in the West Bank, singling out Palestinian terrorist attacks on civilians and retaliatory Israeli military raids. More than a dozen Israeli civilians have been killed in terror attacks, and dozens of Palestinians have been killed in Israeli raids. Israel says most of the Palestinians killed have been militants, though a number of civilians have been killed as well, including a man who died amid a riot by Israeli settlers in the Palestinian village of Huwara following a Palestinian terror attack last month.
“We are profoundly concerned that the recent violence and increased tensions could spiral into a major conflict, despite the recent steps taken,” the letter says. “U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Director William J. Burns recently warned that Israel appears to be on the brink of confronting a third intifada.”
The letter also cites weeks of massive demonstrations in Israel against the planned judiciary reforms. It comes ahead of a visit to the United States by Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right politician who is speaking on Sunday to Israel Bonds, which sells Israeli government bonds to investors abroad. Biden administration officials have said they will not meet with Smotrich.
DeLauro, who is from Connecticut, has long been close to the mainstream pro-Israel community, earning an endorsement last year from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s affiliated political action committee.
Among other senior Democrats signing the letter are Jewish members including Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
Not all Democrats were pleased with the letter. Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Jared Moskowitz of Florida, who are both Jewish, released a joint statement that did not directly address the letter, but that cautioned lawmakers not to interfere at this juncture in Israel’s internal debates.
“Regardless of our personal views and concerns, Congress should not publicly intervene in ongoing negotiations of a key democratic ally,” their statement said. “Doing so, especially in a partisan way, could undermine those negotiations toward a positive outcome.”
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