The reform of Israel’s judiciary is best done through compromise, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Thursday. He urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to accept the plan put forward Wednesday by President Isaac Herzog.“Herzog submitted proposals to solve this situation, and as a friend of Israel, we would hope you would consider these proposals,” Scholz said.
He spoke during a joint press conference the two leaders held in Berlin on Thursday, as part of Netanyahu’s one-day visit there.
Netanyahu dismissed Herzog’s compromise as insufficient moments before he boarded the plane for Germany on Wednesday night. He delayed his flight by five hours to discuss the compromise proposal with Herzog.
But in Berlin, Scholz urged Netanyahu to reconsider.
Chancellor Scholz comments
I consider this search for the broadest possible basic social consensus to be right and important,” Scholz said.
“As a close friend, we share democratic values,” he said. “We monitor this debate very closely.”
An “independent judiciary is a precious asset, and it’s good that Herzog” consulted with interested parties, Scholz said.
Netanyahu assured him that Israel would remain a liberal democracy and the judicial reform plan would strengthen the country’s democratic character.
“Israel is not going to abolish democratic principles,” he said, adding that “Israel is a liberal democracy and will remain a liberal democracy.”
Scholz said he hoped that Netanyahu was correct.
“Democracy is not just majority rule, but it’s also about the security of those who remain a minority,” he said.
Germany can monitor developments about the plan, express concern and explain the importance of consensus, Scholz said. It cannot interfere with Israel’s domestic politics; it can only hope that it chooses the path of consensus, he said.
Israel’s democratic nature was important to the relationship between the two countries, Scholz said.
“This is something that we also emphasize again and again when we talk to others who question our unwavering support for Israel,” he said.
“Then we say, This is a partner to whom we are bound for reasons of history, but also because we are democracies, constitutional states in which the minorities do not have to fear the majorities,” Scholz said.
Netanyahu emphasized in English and in Hebrew that he had tried to reach a consensus, but the opposition had not agreed to talk. He did not address the opposition’s explanation that the Likud’s push to fast-track the legislation through the Knesset should be halted to allow time for substantive progress.
“The president’s proposal is a great missed opportunity,” Netanyahu later told reporters. “It’s not the people’s outline, and I’m not sure it’s half the people’s outline.”
“What was presented to the president by the coalition regarding the committee for appointing judges consisted of an outline of two stages – a certain immediate correction and then a balance,” he said. “The president heard these things and put them aside.
“I am attentive to what is happening in the nation [in the demonstrations], but we need to bring something that is in line with the mandate we received, and we will do it in a responsible manner,” he added.
Israeli-German relations were not riding on the outcome of the judicial reform, Netanyahu said.
“There was no stipulation on the part of the chancellor concerning relations with Israel because of the reform, especially not when it comes to security relations,” he said.
During the press conference, Netanyahu said the reform would maintain the separation of powers and that the issue was not the independence of the judiciary, which had become more powerful than the legislative branch, and that balance had to be restored.
“We want to strengthen majority and minority rights,” he said. “The only way to achieve that is to create a balance between the judiciary, the legislature and the executive. In Israel, this balance is imbalanced.”
“This will not hinder democracy but strengthen it,” Netanyahu said. “It will not hinder the independent judiciary but strengthen it. It will not weaken individual fundamental rights but strengthen them.”
Opponents of the plan fear it would weaken Israeli democracy, with more virulent opponents warning it will turn Israel into a dictatorship.
Netanyahu arrived in Berlin after protesters attempted unsuccessfully to block his way to Ben-Gurion Airport and held a protest at the terminal. On Thursday, they held their third day of disruption in Israel, while protesters in Germany held a rally against the plan in Berlin.