Judicial reform turmoil dogged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s London trip Friday, as his British counterpart Rishi Sunak raised the issue in their meeting and activist rallied in the streets warning about dictatorship.
“Shame!,” “Shame!,” protestors shouted in Hebrew — even though they were in London — as they made their anger against Netanyahu’s judicial overhaul program one of the foremost issues of his visit.
Activists spelled out the word Democracy by placing large white and blue letters against the steel security barriers on a street next to his hotel. Protestors shouted the words “Shame!” at Netanyahu’s wife Sarah as she walked out of the hotel.
The activists were not large in number, but their persistence made them impossible to ignore.
Over 100 protesters were already in place outside Downing Street, waving Israeli flags when Netanyahu arrived for his meeting with Sunak.
They held signs in English that said, “Fight for Israel’s Democracy, “The Dictatorship has sailed and “Sunak, do not let Bibi turn Israel into another Iran.”
One sign showed a photo of Netanyahu with the slogan, “Dictator, a political leader who has complete power over a country.”
Netanyahu landed in the United Kingdom early Friday morning as attorney-general Gali Baharav-Miara said he is in violation of his conflict of interest deal for taking over the government’s judicial overhaul process.Israelis and Jews protest ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's arrival at 10 Downing Steet in London, UK, on March 24, 2023 (TOVAH LAZAROFF)
Netanyahu arrives at Downing Street
After a brief stop at the Savoy hotel. Netanyahu was driven to Downing Street in a black Range Rover, which stopped a short distance away from the well-known black door with the number ten on it.
He walked alone for a few minutes down the sidewalk, passing the black iron gate that surrounds the British prime minister's office. Protest chants could be heard in the small Prime Ministerial complex as he strode alone.
Sunak greeted him just outside the door with a smile and a handshake and then they both entered for a private meeting.
A previously scheduled photo op with a few obligatory pleasantries originally scheduled for the top of the Netanyahu-Sunak meeting was canceled at the last minute. A more formal joint press event was never planned, even though the two countries within the last week signed a new agreement of cooperation called the 2030 Road Map. It’s designed to lay out the framework for joint efforts in a range of fields including technology and security.
The meeting lasted less than an hour. Joint statements described close ties and conversations held on Iran, Russia and the economy.
Downing Street also weighed in on the judicial reform plan. It said Sunak had stressed “the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel.”
An Israeli official later told reporters that the meeting had not focused on judicial reform and that the matter had come up just briefly in a meeting that affirmed the strong ties between the two nations which was dominated by other issues.
The official dismissed protestors’ fears that Israel could become a dictatorship, stressing that the reform plan would strengthen the country’s democracy by restoring the balance between the different seats of power.
The court will retain its independence, it just won’t be all-powerful, the official said.
The trip to London was the fourth to Europe that Netanyahu has taken in the last two months, traveling to Frame, Italy and Germany. In Berlin, Netanyahu was similarly greeted by protestors and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz also spoke about democracy during public joint statements.
In London opponents of his overhaul plan were not ht only ones to take to the streets.
When Netanyahu left Downing Street, the protest outside Sunak’s office had grown to also include pro-Palestinian protesters who stood on one corner with Palestinian flags.
Anti-judicial reform protesters stood on the other corner with Israeli flags.
“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” the pro-Palestinian protestors chanted. On the other corner, judicial overhaul protesters shouted, “Democracy!”