Far-right National Missions Minister Orit Strock slammed US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Tuesday, a day after he signaled that the White House was clearly concerned about moves by Israel’s new radical government.
“Dear Mr. Blinken, I understand that you have decided to teach our Prime Minister a lesson in democracy,” the Religious Zionism lawmaker tweeted.
“Well, democracy is first and foremost the duty of a country to determine its course based on the votes of its citizens, each having equal weight, without foreign involvement,” Strock wrote.
“Protests, however legitimate, are not equivalent to a ballot,” Strock wrote, in a very rare public rebuke of a senior US official by an Israeli government minister.
Strock is no stranger to controversy and last month was denounced as racist and discriminatory when she said during a discussion of a bill that doctors should be allowed to refuse treatment to patients for religious reasons.
While Blinken’s comments angered Strock, he won the backing of opposition leader Yair Lapid, one of the fiercest critics of the government’s plans.
Following his meeting with Blinken, Lapid said their discussions were “first and foremost about the shared values of the principles of democracy and the preservation of democratic institutions.”
Lapid then responded to Strock’s comments, saying “now is the time for Netanyahu, with all his weakness, to at least put Minister Strock in her place.”
“American ‘foreign involvement’ she objects to includes $38 billion in aid, funding for Iron Dome batteries, Apache helicopters and F-35 jets supposed to attack Iran,” Lapid tweeted. .
שמחתי לפגוש הבוקר את חברי הטוב @SecBlinken ????????????????
שוחחנו רבות על אתגרי הבטחון של ישראל, על ההתקדמות של “פורום הנגב” ועל היחסים המיוחדים בין ארה”ב וישראל המתבססים לא רק על אינטרסים משותפים אלא בראש ובראשונה על ערכים משותפים של עקרונות הדמוקרטיה ושמירה על המוסדות הדמוקרטיים. pic.twitter.com/WqmLupBlgj
— יאיר לפיד — Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) January 31, 2023
The Netanyahu coalition is proposing a controversial overhaul that would increase government control over the justice system. The plan has drawn intense criticism and warnings from leading financial and legal experts, as well as weekly mass protests and public petitions from various officials, professionals and private companies.
Critics say that along with other bills, the sweeping overhaul will impact Israel’s democratic character by upending its system of checks and balances, giving too much power to the executive and leaving minorities without defense.
Netanyahu insists the radical plans will instead strengthen democracy and therefore the nation’s financial situation, and says he is carrying out the will of the voters.
Speaking alongside Netanyahu at a Monday press conference in Jerusalem, Blinken emphasized the democratic values shared by the two countries.
“Throughout the relationship between our countries, what we keep coming back to is that it is rooted in both common interests and shared values,” Blinken said.
“This includes our support for fundamental democratic principles and institutions, including respect for human rights, equal administration of justice for all, equal rights for minority groups, rule of law, freedom of the press, a robust civil society – and the dynamism of Israel’s civil society has been on full display lately.
“The commitment of people in both our countries to raise their voices, to stand up for their rights, is one of the unique strengths of our democracies,” Blinken continued. “Another is the recognition that building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they are adopted and endure.”
Alluding to the deep rift between the Biden administration and Netanyahu’s government, Blinken said that over the years, the United States and Israel have strengthened their democracies by “holding to mutual standards that we have established; and speaking honestly and respectfully, as friends do, when we agree and when we don’t.
Speaking before Blinken, Netanyahu stressed that Israel and the United States “share common values; two strong democracies which will remain, I assure you, two strong democracies.
In discussions with Blinken, Netanyahu focused the conversation on Tehran, telling Blinken that the international community had seen “the true face of Iran.”
The two men also discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations. After explaining the importance of helping Israel integrate into the region and expand the Abraham Accords, Blinken stressed that “these efforts do not replace progress between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Lazar Berman contributed to this report