Summit for Democracy begins as questions swirl over Israel's judicial reforms

US President Joe Biden is co-hosting the second annual event

Strengthening democracy at home and abroad has been a major tenet of US President Joe Biden's tenure in the Oval Office. AP
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President Joe Biden kicked off his second Summit for Democracy on Wednesday with a $690 million pledge to strengthen democratic initiatives around the world.

"Democracy is hard work," Mr Biden said in his opening remarks. "The work of democracy is never finished."

The US leader added that defending democracy is the "defining challenge of our age".

This year’s two-day virtual event, which the US is hosting alongside Costa Rica, the Netherlands, South Korea and Zambia, will bring together 120 global leaders.

The guest list has sparked controversy for who will and won't be participating.

The US did not invite Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Hungary's Viktor Orban, but did invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Mr Netanyahu is in the midst of a political storm after thousands of Israelis protested against his overhaul of the judicial system. Critics say it would strip power from the Supreme Court and give politicians unprecedented strength.

After pressure at home and abroad, the Israeli leader agreed to delay the sweeping measures but refused to abandon them.

“Israel was, is and it will always remain a proud, strong and vibrant democracy,” Mr Netanyahu said in his opening remarks at the summit.

He acknowledged that “Israel was undergoing, in its robust democracy, a very intensive public debate.”

The US has expressed concern over Israel’s plans to overhaul the judiciary.

“I hope he walks away from it,” Mr Biden said on Tuesday.

The Biden administration wants to use the summit to focus on making “technology work for and not against democracy”, a senior administration official told AP.

Strengthening democracy at home and abroad has been a major tenet of the US President's tenure in the Oval Office.

He took office as America’s own democratic process was under attack by Donald Trump, who still refuses to admit he lost the 2020 election and continues to promote conspiracy theories.

His supporters stormed the US Capitol and delayed the certification process by several hours.

This year's Summit for Democracy will focus on supporting and strengthening independent media, bolstering human rights and democratic reforms, fighting corruption, advancing technology for democracy and defending free and fair elections.

Updated: March 29, 2023, 4:06 PM