Chancellor Olaf Scholz has expressed concern about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's controversial judicial reform, while assuring the country of continued solidarity on security issues. During Netanyahu's short visit to Berlin, which was accompanied by protests, Scholz said on Thursday that the federal government wanted Israel to remain a liberal democracy. "As a partner in democratic values and close friends of Israel, we are following this debate very closely - and I won't hide that: with great concern."
During Netanyahu's visit, several hundred people demonstrated in the government district and at the Brandenburg Gate. The police spoke of 400 to 500, 1000 were registered. In Israel, too, thousands of people took to the streets against the government's plans. The organizers had previously called for "a day of escalating resistance".
Netanyahu's right-wing religious government wants to push through parts of the controversial reform in a fast-track procedure by the end of the month. Among other things, the Israeli parliament should be able to overturn decisions of the highest court. In addition, politicians should have more influence in the appointment of judges. Critics see the separation of powers as the main pillar of democracy in danger. Some accuse Netanyahu of pursuing a path towards dictatorship.
Scholz puts hope in President Herzog
At the press conference with Netanyahu, Scholz made his uneasiness about the reform plans clear, but he did not offend him on the open stage. He hopes that "the last word has not yet been said" on the latest compromise proposal by Israeli President Izchak Herzog, said the Chancellor diplomatically.
Herzog published a plan on Wednesday that he said would simultaneously strengthen parliament and the government and ensure an independent judiciary. However, Netanyahu rejected the compromise proposal before leaving for Germany.
In Berlin he rejected claims that the judiciary was being weakened. "Israel is a liberal democracy and we will remain a liberal democracy," he said. An independent judiciary is not an almighty judiciary. "We will do whatever is necessary to correct the imbalance." This should be changed by the planned reform. "We will not deviate an inch from that," said Netanyahu. He described the President's compromise proposal as "unbalanced".
Armament cooperation remains unaffected by the reform dispute
Before their political talks, Scholz and Netanyahu visited the Holocaust memorial at Grunewald train station, from where around 10,000 Jews were taken to Nazi labor, concentration and extermination camps on Reichsbahn trains in 1941 and 1942. Netanyahu emphasized the importance of the state of Israel's ability to defend itself. "We know that the calls for the annihilation of Israel have not stopped," he said.
The armaments cooperation between the two countries remains unaffected by the dispute over judicial reform. Scholz and Netanyahu confirmed that it should be further expanded. Germany currently wants to acquire the Israeli air defense system Arrow 3 in particular. Scholz said the project represents "very, very big progress" in the collaboration. Conversely, German arms exports to Israel would also continue. It is clear "that we will continue to deliver weapons to Israel".
Scholz affirms: Israel's security is a matter of state
In the past, Germany has mainly delivered submarines to Israel and has also used taxpayers' money to promote exports. The background is that Germany has declared the security of Israel to be a reason of state in view of the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany. Scholz confirmed that this still applies.
The Israeli system Arrow 3 is to become part of a European air defense system. It is currently the highest tier of Israel's multi-tiered missile defense system and can destroy attacking weapon systems more than 100 kilometers above the atmosphere in nascent space. When a contract will be signed and what the scope of the deal is, neither Scholz nor Netanyahu wanted to answer on Thursday. After the conversation, Netanyahu only said: "We have decided on a path that will take us further. Of course we will move forward as quickly as possible."
Netanyahu urges tougher stance on Iran
For Netanyahu, the demand for a tougher course against Iran was the most important topic in Berlin. "We must oppose Iran very strongly and ensure that the country cannot produce nuclear weapons," he said. Israel will do "everything necessary" to prevent this.
There is no greater danger than Iran's nuclear program, Netanyahu said. The leadership there called for the destruction of the only Jewish state. "The Jewish people will not allow a second Holocaust." Cooperation with Israel's allies such as Germany and the USA is important for this. "We must act now," said Netanyahu. Otherwise there will be consequences. Israel's head of government has not ruled out military action on several occasions in the past.
Scholz called on Tehran to end its "destructive activities" in the region. Israel and Germany are concerned that "Iran has taken new escalation steps and has been enriching uranium to a very high degree." A diplomatic solution has top priority.