Netanyahu in Berlin amid controversy over judicial reform

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in Berlin on Thursday, where he is expected to urge German leaders to reconsider his controversial reform of the justice system, which prompted President Isaac Herzog to warn of the risk of “civil war” in Israel .

Mr Netanyahu’s visit has put the German government under pressure, even as opponents have demanded that Berlin cancel the visit.

Traveling to Tallinn, Estonia, on Wednesday, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier assured he would discuss the controversial reforms with the Israeli prime minister during a meeting scheduled for Thursday afternoon.

Israel is “the only democracy in the whole region, a country endowed with a strong constitutional state”, said Mr. Steinmeier, whose work is essentially honorary in Germany, even if he is listened to a lot.

“What we admire in Israel” should be “preserved,” he said.

At midday, Mr Netanyahu is due to meet with his counterpart at the Chancellery, Olaf Scholz. A press conference is scheduled.

Before flying to Germany, where he arrived on Wednesday evening, the Israeli leader and his coalition refused to accept a draft agreement on a judicial reform project that intends to limit the Supreme Court’s prerogatives and which divides the country.

This new proposal came from Israeli President Isaac Herzog who warned of the risk of “civil war”.

– “Red line” –

“Whoever thinks that a real civil war with human lives, a frontier we will not reach, does not know what he is talking about,” Israel’s president warned on Wednesday. want a settlement.”

“Well now in the 75th year of independence of the State of Israel, the abyss is at hand. Today I tell you what I told them: civil war is a red line. I will not let that happen.” He added.

Regarding the agreement, Benjamin Netanyahu said, “The representatives of the ruling coalition have not accepted what the president is proposing.”

Mounted police confront opponents of judicial reform during a rally in Tel Aviv, March 16, 2023 (AFP – JACK GUEZ)

Since the announcement of a reform plan in early January by one of the most right-wing governments in Israel’s history, the country has been rocked by mass demonstrations every week in what its critics describe as an anti-democratic drift.

Israel’s prime minister and his allies consider the reform necessary to restore the balance of power between elected officials and the Supreme Court, which they consider political.

On Tuesday, the Israeli parliament adopted a provision for the first time, making it possible to override some Supreme Court rulings. The other censure provisions had already been adopted at first reading in February.

– “do not come back!”-

Ahead of Mr Netanyahu’s departure for Germany, Israelis opposing the reform demonstrated at Tel Aviv airport with posters that may have read “Don’t come back!”.

Israelis living in Berlin are to hold a protest with the slogan “Defend Israel’s democracy” at the Brandenburg Gate in the center of the German capital on Thursday afternoon.

A thousand Israeli writers, artists and intellectuals sent letters to the ambassadors of Germany and Great Britain in Israel, urging Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to these two countries to be cancelled.

Israeli (D) and German flags fly in front of the Chancellery in Berlin on March 16, 2023 (AFP - Aud Andersen)
Israeli (D) and German flags fly in front of the Chancellery in Berlin on March 16, 2023 (AFP – Aud Andersen)

As a German government spokesman remarked earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu “is the elected prime minister of Israel and is therefore an ordinary guest in Germany.”

Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Berlin begins in the morning with a visit to the Gliese 17 Extermination Memorial (Platform 17), from where, from the autumn of 1941 to the spring of 1942, moved train convoys carrying thousands of Berlin Jews to concentration and extermination camps. Used to force.

The Israeli Prime Minister is scheduled to leave from Germany on Thursday evening.

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