Benjamin Netanyahu jeered in London as Rishi Sunak urges him to ‘uphold democratic values’
Rishi Sunak stressed to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the “importance of upholding democratic values” as he faced an angry backlash against deeply controversial judicial reforms.
The two leaders met in Downing Street for talks on Friday, including on Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine and Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
However, Mr Netanyahu’s visit was being overshadowed by a growing row in Israel with the Attorney General warning him that he risks violating the law if he got personally involved in a judicial overhaul plan.
In the face of intensifying protests against the proposed changes, Mr Netanyahu said on Thursday he was putting aside all other considerations and would do “anything it takes” to reach a solution.
The veteran Israeli leader, who is on trial on corruption charges which he denies, said his hands had been tied but a law amended on Thursday to limit the circumstances in which a Prime Minister can be removed gave him more space for manoeuvre.
However, Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara, in a letter addressed to Mr Netanyahu, disagreed.
“The legal situation is clear: you must refrain from any involvement in initiatives to change the judiciary, including the make-up of the committee for the appointment of judges, as such activity is a conflict of interest.”
“Your statement last night and any action you take in violation of this matter is illegal and tainted by a conflict of interest,” Ms Baharav-Miara added.
In London after the talks, the British Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel.
“The leaders welcomed the chance to meet in person to progress our important partnership, and the Prime Minister looked forward to visiting Israel at the earliest opportunity.”
As he arrived at Downing Street, Mr Netanyahu was greeted by shouts of “shame” from pro-democracy protesters demonstrating against the judicial overhaul.
Demonstrators protest on Whitehall ahead of a visit by Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Protesters waving Israeli flags and placards stating their aim of “saving Israeli democracy” could be heard as Mr Sunak shook his counterpart’s hand outside No 10 on Friday morning.
Cries of “Busha”, or shame in Hebrew, could be heard from hundreds of demonstrators expressing their anger at Mr Netanyahu’s legislation that they say will drag the nation towards autocracy.
Critics say the law is tailor-made to shield the leader from his corruption trial.
The Attorney General’s letter followed an earlier one from her warning that Mr Netanyahu must stay out of his coalition’s push for a judicial overhaul because of what she deemed a conflict of interest arising from his trials.
In a message distributed by the ruling Likud party, an unnamed source close to Mr Netanyahu denied the Prime Minister violated any laws or conflict of interest agreements in his statement and said it had no repercussions on his personal affairs.
The source said it was incumbent on the premier to try and reach a wide consensus during a time of national crisis that carried implications on the country both domestically and abroad.
Mr Netanyahu’s religious-nationalist coalition has been pursuing changes to the judiciary that would give the government sway in choosing judges and limit the Supreme Court’s power to strike down laws.
Proponents say the plan would rein in Supreme Court overreach and restore balance between the branches of government. Critics say it would weaken the courts, endanger civil liberties and harm the economy.