Pentagon chief calls for action on settler violence, Israeli consensus

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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin called for political consensus in Israel on Tuesday in a call with his Israeli counterpart, in the latest sign of strain between the allies over an Israeli judicial overhaul triggering major protests.

Israel’s parliament ratified an initial bill aimed at curbing the Supreme Court’s powers, despite months of internal unrest over the proposal and appeals from the US and other countries to hold off and negotiate with the opposition.

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The protests may be affecting the Israeli military. Protest leaders cite growing numbers of military reservists who say they would no longer report for duty if the government pressed ahead with its judicial reform plans.

Former Israeli top brass have warned that Israel’s war-readiness, with Arab and Iranian enemies spread across the Middle East, could be at risk.

“Austin underscored the United States’ belief that broad consensus through political dialogue, especially in the coming weeks and months, are critical elements of a resilient democracy,” a Pentagon readout of the call said.

The readout did not directly address protests by Israeli reservists, and Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh declined to say during a news conference whether Austin raised any concerns he might have about impacts on Israeli military readiness in the call.

She also declined to elaborate on Austin’s comments regarding settler violence in Israel.

A Pentagon readout said Austin urged Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant “to address extremist settler violence against Palestinian civilians.”

The White House on Monday called it “unfortunate” that Israel’s parliament ratified part of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s contested judicial overhaul.

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