Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court and give them control over the appointment of the nation’s judges.
They say the plan is a long-overdue measure to curb what they see as outsize influence by unelected judges. But critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority. They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past two months to protest the sweeping overhaul. Protests last week were so large that Netanyahu was forced to take a helicopter to the airport in order to catch a flight for an official visit to Italy.
High-tech leaders, Nobel-winning economists and prominent security officials have spoken out against it, military reservists have threatened to stop reporting for duty and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the U.S., have urged Netanyahu to slow down. Repeated efforts by Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.
In a letter addressed to the German and British ambassadors in Israel, some 1,000 Israeli figures said Tuesday that Israel is in the midst of the most extreme crisis in its history and that Netanyahu is trying to turn the country into a “theocratic dictatorship.”
“In the face of Mr. Netanyahu’s dangerous and destructive leadership, and in light of a vast democratic civilian resistance against the destruction of state institutions by undemocratic law-making, we are asking that Germany and Great Britain swiftly announce to the defendant Netanyahu that his planned state visits to your countries are canceled,” reads the letter. “If these visits go ahead as planned, a dark shadow will hang over them.”
The letter was signed by internationally acclaimed author David Grossman, novelist Dorit Rabinyan, Oscar-nominated director Uri Barbash and scores of academics, business figures and professionals.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday in Berlin, where Israeli expats say they are organizing a large protest against their visiting prime minister. The Israeli leader is reportedly heading to Britain in the coming weeks as well.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined the chorus of critical voices on Tuesday, saying British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should also refuse to meet Netanyahu because of the Israeli leader's alliance with far-right politicians who he said have tolerated or even supported violent West Bank settlers.
“Everyone that loves Israel should be against this government,” Olmert, a fierce Netanyahu rival, told reporters. He said Sunak should "tell him 'go to hell. I don't want to see you. I don't want to talk to a government that does these things.'”
Netanyahu returned to power in December, following the country's fifth election in under four years, at the head of the most right-wing government in Israel's 75-year history.
Late last month, settlers rampaged through a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank burning dozens of cars and homes, one Palestinian was killed.
Following the rampage, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a hard-line settler leader, said the Palestinian village (Huwara) should be “erased."
In response, a human rights organisation said Tuesday that Smotrich was "not welcome" on a planned visit to France this week.
The Human Rights League (LDH) based in France described Smotrich as "arabophobic, homophobic, ultra-colonialist and ultra-religious", adding that it felt "outrage" at the visit planned for Sunday and "condemns everything this character represents".
While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he held the Israeli government responsible for “the terrorist acts carried out by settlers under the protection of the occupation forces.”
The death toll has further, and sharply, deteriorated in the first weeks of 2023, and in the month that has just ended, he warned.
In 74 days, since the start of the year, Israel has claimed the lives of some 84 Palestinian.
Thirteen Israeli have been killed over the same period while 131 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces in 2022, according to UNHRC figures.
Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed in the West Bank and east Jerusalem in 2022, making it the deadliest year in those areas since 2004, according to Israeli rights group B'Tselem. Palestinian attacks against Israelis during that same time killed 30 people.
Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war.
*This story was edited by Ahram Online