Berlin: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz voiced concern about the Israeli government’s planned overhaul of the country’s judicial system as he hosted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, offering praise for efforts by Israel’s president to seek a “broad basic consensus.”
Netanyahu met with German leaders in Berlin the day after Israeli President Isaac Herzog unveiled a compromise proposal for overhauling the legal system, an approach that Netanyahu rejected.
Lower-level German officials already had voiced concern about the Israeli government’s plan, which would allow parliament to overturn Supreme Court decisions and give Netanyahu’s parliamentary coalition the final say over all judicial appointments.
Germany is a close ally of Israel in Europe and has tended to refrain from strong public criticism of its government.
“As close friends of Israel with shared democratic values, we are following this debate very closely, and I cannot hide the fact that we’re following it with great concern,” Scholz said at a news conference alongside Netanyahu. “The independence of the judiciary is a precious democratic asset. We agree on that.”
“It is good and valuable that President Herzog talked to a large of actors in society in order to counter a further polarization of Israel,” Scholz said. “Allow me to add that I think this search for a broad basic consensus is right and important.”
Of Herzog’s suggestion, Scholz said: “As friends of Israel, we would like the last word not to have to have been spoken on this proposal.”
Netanyahu showed no sign of being swayed. “Israel was, is and will remain a liberal society,” he said.
The prime minister argued that appeals for discussions with the Israeli opposition were “met with complete refusal” and that “there is a desire to reach a moment of crisis, perhaps a governmental breakdown, a search for new elections.”
“If that continues, that’s regrettable, but we will do whatever we think is the right thing to achieve something that corrects the imbalance that exists today between the branches of government and yet, at the same time, could over time be accepted as the best solution for Israel in line with my principles of keeping Israel a liberal, balanced democracy,” Netanyahu said.
The leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, met Netanyahu himself earlier Thursday. Schuster said he voiced concern to the prime minister that “his government is increasingly dividing Israeli society and is squandering confidence in democratic Israel,” German news agency dpa reported.
Around 500 Israelis protested at Berlin’s landmark Brandenburg Gate, waving Israeli flags, singing and holding up banners against Netanyahu’s visit.
“He is destroying our democracy for the sake of staying out of jail,” Nasich Philip, a project manager in construction who moved to Berlin nine years ago, said. “He is sacrificing the whole country to protect himself and his family.”
Germany and Israel share concerns about Iran’s nuclear activities. Netanyahu has threatened military action against Iran’s nuclear program as it enriches uranium closer to weapons-grade levels.
Germany is one of the world powers that entered a 2015 deal with Tehran to address concern about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The agreement unraveled after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States.
“The Jewish state will do everything necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, period,” Netanyahu said, without giving details.
“Our hope is that we will ultimately succeed in preventing this with a diplomatic solution,” Scholz said.