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In op-ed, Israelis call on US to intervene like it did in apartheid South Africa

In an English-language op-ed published in the US, three prominent Israelis called on the Biden administration to intervene and support opposition efforts to counter the judicial overhaul, with pressure like that applied to apartheid South Africa.

In the article published in The Hill on Friday, Ami Ayalon, Gilead Sher, and Orni Petruschka argued that in the wake of the government passing the first plank of its controversial program, the US and others needed to “show some tough love” to compel Israel to retain its democratic system.

“Israelis — and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, in particular — need to learn the consequences of going down a path that diverges dramatically from the values we have shared with the US, and the Biden administration should make this crystal clear. So should members of Congress. To have a special relationship based on shared values, you need to actually share values,” they wrote.

The article did not lay out what steps Biden should take, beyond not meeting with Netanyahu. However, it specifically referenced US pressure against apartheid South Africa.

“We recall a meeting with FW de Klerk, the former South African leader, who explained what caused him to turn his back on apartheid some three decades before. He said it was the combination of international pressure with the insurrection from within,” the authors wrote.

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“Despite the differences between the two cases, we fear it will have to happen to and in Israel, as well,” they said.

In 1986 the US imposed wide-ranging sanctions on South Africa, barring trade and new economic investments. Direct flights were also ended, adding to the country’s growing international isolation. De Klerk moved to end White rule in 1991.

From left, F.W. de Klerk, President Bill Clinton, and Nelson Mandela appear at ceremonies honoring the two South African leaders with the Philadelphia Liberty Medal at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, July 4, 1993. (AP Photo/Greg Gibson, File)

“Friends of Israel need to understand that Netanyahu is lying to foreign media that any reform will be done only by wide consent; the reality here in Israel is that the progress of the judicial coup d’état continues apace, as this week’s vote tells us,” they wrote.

Ayalon was the head of the Israeli Navy and later the chief of the Shin Bet security agency, while Sher was a negotiator under former prime minister Ehud Barak. Petruschka is a former IAF pilot and entrepreneur. All three are affiliated with the anti-government protest movement.

Last week’s vote saw lawmakers approve a measure that prevents judges from striking down government and ministerial decisions on the grounds that they are “unreasonable.” The law was approved by all 64 coalition members — with the entire 56-strong opposition boycotting the vote — despite the sustained mass protests; vehement opposition from top judicial, security, economic and public figures; repeated warnings from allies, chief among them the US; and thousands of military reservists vowing to quit service.

The Biden administration has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the moves, calling on the government not to advance the legislation without first reaching a broad consensus on the moves.

Netanyahu addressed the criticism in an interview Sunday with Fox News, one of a series he has given to foreign media in recent days while apparently boycotting the mainstream Israeli press.

Netanyahu said that in his 16 years in power, “I never commented on the internal debates of other democracies,” adding that “everybody has an opinion on Israel.”

Netanyahu said he would not be swayed by international pressure.

“We’ll make our own decisions. In sovereign states, sovereign democracies, the elected representatives of the people make the decisions and that’s how it’s going to be in Israel,” he said.

Netanyahu reiterated his claim that the overhaul would actually strengthen Israeli democracy by restoring a balance of power between branches of government.