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Transcript: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on "Face the Nation," April 23, 2023

Netanyahu: Judicial overhaul is "internal matter"
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says judicial system overhaul is an "internal matter" 08:59

The following is the full transcript of an interview with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that aired on "Face the Nation" on April 23, 2023.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We turn now to Israel where tens of thousands of protesters marched through Tel Aviv last night in opposition to the government's plans to overhaul the judicial system. This is just days ahead of Israel's 75th anniversary celebrating its independence. For more we go now to the country's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Good morning to you, Mr. Prime Minister. It has been--

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Good morning. Good to be with you.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, we're glad you're here, you know, it has been a month since you hit pause on those judicial reforms. At this moment in time when you need national unity, why not withdraw them?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, I think there's a broad consensus that we have to make corrections in our judicial system. There's a- obviously a dramatic difference between the views of how, to what extent, and so on. But I think they should not cloud the fact that we're celebrating here a modern miracle, Israel's 75th anniversary, is the change that happened to the Jewish people who were decimated in the Holocaust, a third of our people were lost to this independent nation that has become a power in the world. And I think everybody unites around that. The fact that we have demonstrations, I think that's a sign of our democracy. Just as you have demonstrations in France--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: You have demonstrations in the United States. I don't think anybody should have any doubts that Israel is and will remain a vibrant democracy, boisterous and vibrant.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Certainly boisterous because you had to cancel a Monday appearance at the largest gathering of North American Jewish leaders in years because of these protests concerns. Again, why not withdraw the proposal to overhaul the judicial system, which would give Parliament, which is controlled by your allies, authority to overturn Supreme Court decisions?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, I've actually said that I will not accept a blanket ability of the Parliament to overcome judicial Supreme Court decisions, just as we don't accept that the Supreme Court can abrogate any decision by the parliament or the government. Both sides, both of these extremes, actually hinder the balance between the three branches of government, which is exactly what we're trying to bring into balance now. Now, I did say this, and I acted upon it as Prime Minister, I said, alright, let's take time out and let's try to see how we can balance the two opposing sides. One says, you know, we don't have democracy, because we don't have majority rule, because we elect with a majority of Parliament and a government and executive, and then they're overturned. Every decision can be overturned by the Supreme Court. And on the other side, people say, well, okay, if you protect the rights of the majority, you might be hindering the rights of the minority or individual rights by having the Parliament overrule the Supreme Court. There is I think--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Sir, you're making this sound like it's just a debate--

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: a difficult and happy middle.

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're making it sound like this is just a simple debate--


MARGARET BRENNAN: like any other country, but you yourself, use the phrase that you are pausing because you wanted to stop the possibility of civil war. That was a phrase you use when you hit pause. I want to- I want to just lay out for you here what it has done here in the United States. Those judicial plans led President Biden to say he won't be inviting you to Washington anytime soon. Listen.

PRESIDENT BIDEN: I'm very concerned. And I'm concerned that they get this straight. They cannot continue down this road. Hopefully, the prime minister will act in a way that he can try to work out some genuine compromise.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Biden told you to walk away, you seem to be--


MARGARET BRENNAN: betting that there won't be consequences to alienating your closest ally?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, I value the alliance with the United States. And I value the friendship I've had over 40 years with President Biden. I don't think anything will get in that way. But it's an internal matter that we have to resolve. And we're doing it. And the way we're doing it is by seeking a consensus as we speak right now, Margaret, as we speak, right now, there are teams of my own party, the Likud, and the coalition with teams from the opposition, speaking in the president's house, this is now the fifth or sixth meeting they've had seeking that compromise that I think is the mark of democracies. You don't walk away from a problem, you try to solve it, but you try to solve it, --

MARGARET BRENNAN: No, walk away from your proposal.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: through as broad a consensus as you can.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Walk away from your proposal, which will--

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, we've already changed--

MARGARET BRENNAN: allow Parliament with a simple majority--


MARGARET BRENNAN: to override any decision by the Supreme Court. That is your one check and balance on power--


MARGARET BRENNAN: Very different from the American system.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I've already- you're absolutely right. And there are things in the American system that are very different from what is proposed--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: here, for example, only elected officials in the United States choose Supreme Court justices, and here, they're saying that can't be that won't be a democracy. Well, America is a democracy. So actually, I've said that I don't want a blanket overrule of- of the Knesset over the Supreme Court, and I stand by that, and in fact, it's not going to happen. So we have a way to go. I think that what has changed is this and you won't hear about it because there is a lot of contentious reporting, to say the least. But I think right now in the three months since the establishment of my government--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: there has been a majority that now believe that we need to have judicial reform. I think there is recognition--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: on both sides right now that the extreme positions of keeping what we have exactly as it is, is unacceptable. And people on my side of the aisle--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: who believe that the original proposal is not going to happen, either--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: there is a middle way, and I'm going to do my damnedest to find it, because I think it's the right thing to do for the country.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We will track it then. I want to ask you about the makeup of your government, because it is impacting US relations. Your finance minister calls himself a homophobe, he said a Palestinian village should be erased. You did say that was inappropriate. Your Public Security Minister was rejected from Army service because of past ties to an extremist group designated by the US as a terrorist organization. I know you need to keep your coalition together to prevent a collapse, but are you confident you can rein in people like this?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU:  I think a lot of them have changed over time. And they themselves say that. But the important thing to understand is they joined me, I didn't join them. We have by far the largest party in the Knesset, and certainly in the coalition. They're smaller parties. The mainstream policies are decided by me. And that's what I'm doing. By the way, that's true of- the main things that are important for our country, continuing our free market economy--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: pursuing peace through strength, and peace through responsibility, applying strength--



MARGARET BRENNAN: Doesn't this complicate your plans to--

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: you know a lot of people said about me over the years that I will be--

MARGARET BRENNAN:  to make peace though?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I'm sorry, I just want to say that this is no the first time--  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Doesn't this complicate your plans to make peace with the Arab world?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Does this complicate, my what?

MARGARET BRENNAN:  Having individuals like this--


MARGARET BRENNAN: you've said that- you just said right now that you are firmly in control, but having individuals like this with this kind of track record? Doesn't this complicate your broader goals, as you just said, of broader peace in the region?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: No, I- look, as the Prime Minister of Israel, I see- you know, everybody sees things above the surface, they don't see things below the surface. And the Prime Minister of Israel sees a lot of things below the surface. And I'm telling you now something that I said 10 years ago in the UN, I said, look, we're going to move into things you haven't seen in my lifetime. And that is Arab states will recognize that Israel is not their enemy, but their friend, even an indispensable friend, and we're going to have peace treaties and people pooh-poohed it. And it's happened--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: we had four historic peace agreements with Arab states. I'm telling you now with this coalition, things that I see under the surface that we are going to have, because of this--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: view, this interest that Arab countries have to partner with Israel, I think you're going to be surprised and maybe sooner than you think.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, this national security minister I just mentioned, Ben Gvir, who threatened to quit, which would have collapsed your government. You promised him a National Guard will be established under his control. The IDF and your security forces are more than strong. He's already gone out and said he wants police to remove Palestinian flags from public spaces. What exactly do you think he's going to do with this National Guard?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, the National Guard is not merely his idea. It's a wide proposal, which is by the way, recognize was actually proposed by the previous government as well, because you need Israel has a small police force relative to the size of the population. And we face unlike other police forces around the world, we face the constant threat of terror. So, you need an additional--


MARGARET BRENNAN: This is the same man who called for a Palestinian village to be erased.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: It's not actually, it's a different person. But that person already apologized and said that his--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: statements were taken out of context. The question you ask, there is a National Guard, it's going to be under one of our national security- under one of our security arms. It's not going to be any individual persons or ministers, militia. That's not going to happen in Israel--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: not under me, and I suspect under anyone else--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: it's just not gonna happen.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Can you clarify this for us as well? Because it's making headlines in the US. Politician May Golan said that you are considering appointing her to be consul-general in New York. She calls herself a proud racist. She's denounced African refugees as Muslim infiltrators and criminals spreading HIV. Are you nominating her to actually serve in New York — an incredibly important post for Israel?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: It is indeed an incredibly important post and anyone I'll nominate, and I haven't done so, will have to abide and will abide by the mainstream positions that I've advocated, and I welcome the fact that the United States has a multiracial and pluralistic society, so does Israel. And as anyone I appoint will have to reflect the value that I attach to that- that quality in our democracy and in yours.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you are not appointing her?



MARGARET BRENNAN: And you won't?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: But I'm telling you that anyone that I will appoint, will abide stringently, stringently by that view that I've advocated throughout my lifetime. And it's not pro forma. It's not lip service. I really believe that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay. Sounds like you're saying she's not coming to New York. I want to ask you about some of the Americans coming to Israel. Florida's governor Ron DeSantis, is visiting Israel this week, and he's presumed to be running for president here as you know. You've endorsed Republicans in the past. Do you plan to meet with him? What do you think of him?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: I've never endorsed any candidate for - for any job in America. That's not true.


MARGARET BRENNAN: You were very supportive of Mitt Romney.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Check this record. No, I was met equally with President Obama when he was candidate Obama. And I do that, as a matter of fact, actually, I meet Margaret, with senators like Senator Schumer, who came here recently with a large Democratic delegation, or Republicans who came with, for example, Mitch McConnell, just recently, we're talking about the last few weeks. I've met equally 50/50. I've checked the numbers 50% 50% with Republicans and Democrats, hundreds and hundreds of them, governors, senators, members of Congress.


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: And let me tell you, I- I do that so regularly, and so frequently, that members of the Knesset, our parliament, complain that I meet with American lawmakers--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: and executives more than I do with them.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So, that's, that sounds like you're saying –


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Well, maybe that's true, but it reflects the fact that I think that the bipartisan relationship with America is vital for Israel.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is that a "yes" you're meeting with Ron DeSantis?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Of course, I'll meet with everyone. Why not? I meet with Republican governors and Democratic governors. I'm not avoiding the question. And actually, I'm, I'm rushing right into it. I'd meet with every American representative, governor, senator, members of Congress. And I think it's- it's my job. And I think it's important for Israel's bipartisan support in the United States. I make a point of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Okay, because for the first time, there was a poll from Gallup last month that showed Democrats are likelier to sympathize with Palestinians than with Israelis for the first time. I know it's easy to dismiss polls, but this seems to be a reflection of public sentiment in the United States that relates directly to Israel's influence in America. 49% of Democrats sympathize with Palestinians, 38% with Israelis. Do you think that matters?

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Yeah, I do think it matters. And I think we have to work harder to persuade our Democratic colleagues, or those of- those our Democratic colleagues who- who forget perhaps that Israel is the solitary democracy in the Middle East, that America has no better friend and no better ally than Israel. But I'll tell you why I think this happens. First of all, it's happening over time. It happened over time. It's not related to this or that administration in Israel, because it happened, it continued under the previous government as well. I think there's a demonization of Israel, in some of the reports, many of the reports that come out of here, and I think there's a portion of the American public that finds it hard to understand that once you- you enter the- the realm of nations, you have to act to defend yourself. And we've constantly have to defend ourselves against- against terrorism, that is aimed against our people. And sometimes when that happens, you have what are called collateral damage, which means civilian casualties that are unfortunate. They're not deliberate. And that often enables the vilification of Israel to take place. And I think we have to work hard to persuade the both--


PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: sides of the aisle, and the independents in between. Yes, both sides of the aisle, and in this case, Democrats, because we have solid support among independents and solid support among Republicans and considerable support among Democrats, but I'm not going to give up. I'm going to do everything I can to tell the truth about Israel, that it's a vibrant democracy, that it's the only one that that keeps full civil rights in the Middle East and a very broad radius, that America has no better friend, that Israeli intelligence, cybersecurity, and defense cooperation with the United States has saved countless American and Israeli lives. I don't think America has a better ally than Israel, anywhere on the planet.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Prime Minister, thank you for your time this morning.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: Thank you. And happy Independence Day for us, and I hope for you too.

MARGARET BRENNAN: We'll be right back.

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