Berlin had already shown its concern about the drift that the controversial judicial reform and the deep political crisis in Israel are taking, but this Thursday Benjamin Netanyahu himself heard it in person from the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz. In a friendly tone, but deeply critical, Scholz has urged the Israeli prime minister, visiting the German capital, to preserve Israel’s status as a liberal democracy and to try to find a solution to the conflict. The German government is following “very closely and with great concern” the crisis caused by the project to restructure the judicial system. “The independence of the judiciary is a great democratic asset”, stressed the chancellor during the joint press conference.
Netanyahu’s shorter-than-expected trip began with a visit to the Platform 17 Holocaust memorial at the Grünewald train station, from where around 10,000 Jews were deported to concentration and extermination camps. “Germany will not forget the responsibility it has and will always live up to it,” said Scholz. During the visit, Netanyahu has stressed the importance of his country’s ability to defend itself. “We know that the calls for the annihilation of Israel have not ceased,” he has noted: “An important lesson of the Holocaust is to counter such threats in time to prevent catastrophes.”
Parallel to the protests organized in Israel, several hundred people have gathered in Berlin next to the Brandenburg Gate and in front of the Bundestag, very close to the Chancellery, where both leaders have met. Handmade banners calling for “save Israeli democracy” have been seen; others in which Netanyahu is compared to Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, and some that play with the name ‘prime minister’ in English (prime minister) and call it “crime minister (minister of crime)”. The German capital is the epicenter of left-wing Israelis living outside their country.
Netanyahu has received another reprimand in Berlin from Josef Schuster, the leader of the Jewish community in Germany: “I have told him that his government is increasingly dividing Israeli society and risking trust in democratic Israel.” But he has also stressed: “The Jews in Germany and throughout the world are firmly on the side of Israel and want to remain so.”
Scholz has expressed sympathy for the victims of the recent terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank, but has also stressed his concern about a further escalation of the conflict in the Middle East. “We are shocked by this blind violence. It must be counteracted with the coherence of the rule of law, but not with unbridled vigilante justice”, the chancellor remarked during the joint press conference. Germany, he has pointed out, calls on all parties not to escalate the conflict any further, including to stop building more settlements.
Scholz has insisted that it is necessary to continue discussing and negotiating the judicial reform. “As friends of Israel, we would like that the last word on this issue has not yet been said.”
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Germany and Israel have a special relationship, marked by the shoah, the mass murder of six million Jews by the Nazi dictatorship. Both nations forged strong diplomatic ties in the decades after World War II. The relationship was formally restored in 1965, although in 1960 there had already been a historic meeting between David Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer in a New York hotel that officially marked the beginning. Successive German governments have made Israel’s national security a foreign policy priority.
Herzog’s alternative proposal
Netanyahu did not arrive in Berlin until late on Wednesday, well after schedule. He delayed the trip to meet in the afternoon with members of his government with a view to the speech to the nation in which the president, Isaac Herzog, presented an alternative proposal to that of the Executive, with the aim of overcoming the political crisis and avoiding “the abyss”. “A complete agreement is impossible, but at this decisive moment we must aspire to a broad agreement on legal issues (…). Whoever believes that a civil war is a border that we will not cross has no idea,” warned Herzog, who lacks executive functions, but can arbitrate in political crises.
Netanyahu has reaffirmed this Thursday his rejection of the presidential initiative, already expressed after Herzog’s intervention. “It is not a compromise proposal, it is a partial proposal,” he declared in a video broadcast on his Telegram network channel. The leaders of five of the six opposition parties with a parliamentary presence, on the contrary, have appeared this Thursday in Tel Aviv to announce their acceptance of the president’s proposal.
In a joint press conference, Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid); Benny Gantz (National Unity); Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beitenu); Merav Mijaeli (Labour); and Mansur Abbas (United Arab List) have clarified that they disagree with some of the guidelines that Herzog presented as the basis for a parliamentary dialogue, but see them as a way out of the crisis and division. “It’s not perfect, nor what we wanted, but it’s a fair compromise agreement that allows us to live together,” Lapid said. “The alternative,” he added, “is serious damage to our economy and our national security, and an angry, confused, and torn apart society.” Along the same lines, Gantz has stressed that the proposal “is not ideal”, but it is “realistic”. The alliance between the Arab parties Hadash and Taal was the only one with opposition deputies that was absent from the appearance. The Palestinian minority with Israeli citizenship (21% of the country’s population) generally remains on the sidelines of the protest.
The Executive’s immediate rejection of the proposal (“its central elements simply perpetuate the status quo”, Netanyahu said before traveling to Berlin) flew over the day of protests held in different parts of the country on Thursday, in which tens of thousands of citizens participated, despite having been called days before Herzog’s intervention. It is the third day of actions —such as marches, sit-ins, roadblocks or escraches— that complement the demonstrations that take place every Saturday, at the end of the shabbat, for more than two months. With them, the opponents of the judicial reform seek to increase the pulse of the Government at a critical moment.
In Tel Aviv, several hundred managed to block again, for about an hour, the important Ayalon highway, while chanting: “Democracy!”, “We are not afraid!” and “Our state is not Netanyahu’s.” They were mainly young or middle-aged carrying numerous Israeli flags and some in the colors of the rainbow. A group was dressed in pink to ask for a future of that color for Israel.
“The speed with which the government has rejected the president’s proposal shows that it is even more necessary for us to be here today,” said one of the protesters, Merav Klein, in the middle of the road. “They have no will to speak. (The president) said that he brought something initial, about which to start talking, but it is clear that what they want is to transform Israel from a democracy to a dictatorship (…). They call us traitors, but I went to the army and my son is now there (doing compulsory military service) ”, he added.
Klein, 50, defined herself as a “mizrahi and a proud leftist” to emphasize that not all the detractors of the reform are Ashkenazi (Jews from central and eastern Europe, more associated with the secular elite that built the country). Mizrahi Jews, who hail from North Africa and the Middle East, have traditionally been linked to Netanyahu’s Likud party in Israel. It is about a socio-political gap that is latent in the country that this crisis has brought to light.
Simona, 28, assures that she has not stopped going to a single one of the demonstrations, so she sees no reason to step on the brake right now. “They won’t listen to us if we just ask for things. We are transparent to them, ”she assures. She is holding a national flag. Around him, many protesters carry stickers with slogans such as: “This is a war for our home”, “Democracy or rebellion”, “We believe in the Declaration of Independence” or “Liar, son of a liar”, referring to how Netanyahu was referred to by his current Finance Minister, Bezalel Smotrich, in a private conversation that was leaked during the campaign for the elections last November.
Others downplayed the presidential initiative. “It’s a smokescreen,” said Oded, 45. “There is a group in the government that is aggressive, radical and hates minorities. I hope at least of all this balagan (mess) a better country comes out”.
The policemen, located on both sides of the demonstrators, advanced on foot and mounted on horses until they boxed them into the exit road and forced them to evacuate the road. In the process, a protester was arrested and the crowd began chanting: “Shame!” Agents arrested 11 people across the country on Thursday.
Israeli Army Kills Four Palestinians in New West Bank Raid
As judicial reform focuses attention on Israel, the violence does not let up. Four Palestinians have died this Thursday in a raid in the city of Jenin, in the north of the occupied territory of the West Bank, in which the Israeli security forces already made their deadliest incursion since 2005 last month, with 11 dead. At least two of the deceased this Thursday were militiamen and another, a teenager. In addition, a short video, released by the Israeli daily Haaretzshows how apparently one of the Israeli troops, dressed incognito, finishes off a Palestinian who was lying unarmed on the ground with a point-blank shot to the head.
More than 80 Palestinians and 13 Israelis (plus a Ukrainian who was at the scene of an attack) have died so far this year, in an escalation of tension in the area that is leaving unprecedented numbers of victims since the Second Intifada ( 2000-2005).
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