Israel risks disconnecting itself from democracy if it pursues the planned judicial reform, French President Emmanuel Macron told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a report in the French newspaper Le Monde.
If the reform were adopted as it stands, France would be forced to conclude that Israel has broken away from a common understanding of democracy, Macron told him when the two met at the Elysee Palace on Thursday night.
A diplomatic source confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that Macron had indeed expressed his concern regarding the judicial overhaul, while an Israeli source explained that Macron had not fully understood the details of the reform process when he spoke.
Macron was the second Western leader to issue a warning about the dangers of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s judicial overhaul plan, which critics fear could weaken Israel’s democracy – making it more akin to Hungary or Poland.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also touted the importance of democracy when he visited Israel this past week, noting that it lays at the foundation of the relationship between both countries.
In an unusual manner, Blinken in his public statements during the trip appeared to intervene in the domestic argument around the reform but suggested it should be a non-partisan process led by President Isaac Herzog.
The warnings by Blinken and Macron come as financial institutions and leading economists have also raised concerns that the overhaul could harm Israel financially.
Netanyahu has argued that the reforms will strengthen – not weaken – Israel’s democracy and the economy. He had hoped that his visit to France, his first since returning to power at the end of December, would underscore his strong ties with Western countries.
He looked, in particular, to push back at the economic warnings over the reforms by meeting with French entrepreneurs and showing that the Jewish state remains an attractive market to global investors.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that the financial meeting which took place on Friday morning included a group of 60 French business people, executives and investors, whose work was estimated at around 60 billion euros.
“The investors, some of whom are already active in Israel, expressed interest in increasing their investments; others expressed great interest in entering the Israeli market, mainly in infrastructure,” the PMO said.
Netanyahu's first trip to France since taking office
In Israel on Friday, Netanyahu’s opponents attacked him over Macron’s comments.
Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli said in response that this was “the first clear warning signal from France regarding Netanyahu’s future: the coup d’état you are planning is not a ‘reform of the judicial system.’ It will take Israel out of the group of democratic states, with all the implications that carries.”
איתות אזהרה ראשון ברור מכיוונה של צרפת לעברו של נתניהו: ההפיכה המשטרית שאתה מתכנן איננה 'רפורמה במערכת המשפט'. היא תוציא את מדינת ישראל מחבר המדינות הדמוקרטיות, על כל ההשלכות המשתמעות מכך. אם נותר בך שמץ של אחריות למדינה - עליך לעצור את בליץ החקיקה המשפטי לאלתר.— Merav Michaeli מרב מיכאלי (@MeravMichaeli) February 3, 2023
She added that “If you still have a shred of responsibility for the country, stop the legislative blitz of the judicial system immediately.”
The public statements released from the meeting at the Élysée Palace on Thursday did not reflect the discord over the judicial overhaul with both Netanyahu and Macron, emphasizing the positive elements of the meeting.
The French said that Netanyahu’s choice of Paris as his first foreign destination “testified, if there were any need for it, to the closeness between our two countries and our two peoples.”
During the meeting, the Élysée Palace said, “President Macron and the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the excellent and exceptional nature of the ties uniting France and Israel.
“They spoke in confidence about the challenges our two countries are facing and the many aspects of our bilateral relationship.”
Netanyahu, in his meeting with French Jewish leaders on Friday, said he had an “excellent meeting” with Macron, adding that it was the best one that had occurred during their relationship.
During the meeting with French Jews, he emphasized that those in their community who wanted to immigrate would be warmly welcomed.
Jews in the Diaspora are entitled to decide their own future, but if “they want to make aliyah to the State of Israel, they would be welcomed with open arms and a red carpet,” Netanyahu said.