Kamala Harris Praises ‘Independent Judiciary’ in Speech at Israeli Embassy Event

Vice President Kamala Harris speaks at an event celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday on June 6. (Ron Kampeas via JTA.org)

Ron Kampeas

WASHINGTON — Speaking before one of the leading architects of the Israeli government’s judicial overhaul, Vice President Kamala Harris stressed the importance of independent courts in a democracy.

Harris’s speech on Tuesday came after a week in which opponents of the judicial overhaul — which would significantly weaken the Israeli Supreme Court — protested Israeli right-wing politicians at a series of events in New York City and elsewhere. Simcha Rothman, a far-right lawmaker who is a leading proponent of the judicial overhaul, was in attendance when the vice president spoke.

The event where Harris spoke was a gala celebrating Israel’s 75th birthday, and was hosted by the Israeli embassy at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C. In her remarks, she praised the U.S.-Israel relationship as well as the Biden administration’s policies on Israel, including military aid and encouraging normalization between Israel and Arab states. But as she wrapped up she alluded to the judicial overhaul, which President Joe Biden has repeatedly criticized.

“Under President Joe Biden and our administration, America will continue to stand for the values that have been the bedrock of the U.S.-Israel relationship, which includes continuing to strengthen our democracies,” she said. She nodded toward the Israeli ambassador, Michael Herzog, and continued, “which, as the ambassador has said, are both built on strong institutions, checks and balances, and — I’ll add — an independent judiciary.”

There were whoops and cheers among the 2,000 or so attendees, which included many Jewish Democrats and leaders of Jewish organizations who have criticized the planned reforms.

On Sunday, a contingent of anti-overhaul protesters came to the Celebrate Israel parade in New York City, protesting right-wing Israeli politicians who were marching. A group also protested Israeli government ministers who spoke at the Jerusalem Post conference on Monday in New York, as well as other recent events where they appeared. On Friday night, Rothman grabbed a megaphone from a protester who was heckling him as he walked down the street, returning it soon afterward.

The protests in the United States are often organized by expatriate Israelis in solidarity with the mass demonstrations opposing the overhaul in Israel. Critics of the legislation view the courts as a bulwark protecting vulnerable populations including Arabs, women, LGBTQ Israelis and non-Orthodox Jews.

In her speech, Harris also referred to the recently unveiled Biden administration strategy to combat antisemitism, the product of a task force led by her Jewish husband, Douglas Emhoff, who also attended the embassy gala.

“When Israel is singled out because of anti-Jewish hatred that is antisemitism and that is unacceptable,” she said to applause.


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