Israeli FM Cohen hits back at US VP Harris after she criticized legal reform plan

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Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Wednesday criticized US Vice President Kamala Harris after she implied that a controversial plan by the government for legal reform could impair the judiciary’s independence.

“If you ask her what bothers her in the reform, she won’t be able to tell you even one clause that bothers her,” Cohen told reporters during a visit to South Korea.

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He was pressed to comment on remarks made Tuesday by Harris during which she called for key US ally Israel to ensure the independence of its judiciary.

Israel and the United States have values that are “built on strong institutions, checks and balances and, I’ll add, an independent judiciary,” Harris said at a gala reception to mark 75 years of the Jewish state organized by the Israeli embassy in Washington.

Asked if he thought that Harris had read the bills presented to the Israeli parliament dealing with changes in Israel’s judiciary, Cohen told public radio broadcaster Kan radio: “I assume she hasn’t.”

Cohen insisted that reform would bring back the public’s faith in Israel’s legal system by making it more balanced, and strengthen the country’s separation of powers.

In a later statement Cohen expressed his “deep respect” for the US and Harris.

“Israel’s legal reform is an internal issue that is currently in the process of consolidation and dialogue,” he said.

“The State of Israel will continue to be democratic and liberal, as it has always been,” he added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, leading the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, has proposed curtailing the authority of the Supreme Court and giving politicians greater powers over the selection of judges.

His proposals have sparked weeks of massive street protests across Israel, with critics saying he is destroying democracy in Israel.

In March, Netanyahu announced a “pause” to allow for talks on the reforms, which were still underway under the auspices of President Isaac Herzog.

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