LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stressed the importance of upholding democratic values when he received Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu for talks on Friday, referring to a move to overhaul Israel’s judiciary that has stirred mass protests.
Netanyahu has faced weeks of uproar over his religious-nationalist coalition’s pursuit of changes to the judiciary that would give the government sway in choosing judges and limit the Supreme Court’s power to strike down laws.
He was greeted by hundreds of protesters when he arrived to see Sunak at 10 Downing Street on Friday, with demonstrators holding up Israeli flags and shouting chants, such as “Boosha!”, which means “for shame!” in Hebrew, and “Netanyahu go to jail, you can’t speak for Israel!”
The scenes in London echoed those in Berlin earlier this month in which hundreds gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to protest against the planned overhaul of Israel’s judiciary.
“The Prime Minister stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel,” a spokesperson for Sunak said.
Readouts of the meeting from both sides said the men also discussed strengthening the relationship between Britain and Israel, and the security and defence challenges they share, including the threat posed by Iran.
Netanyahu invited Sunak for an official visit to Israel, the Israeli statement said. He left Downing Street less than an hour after he arrived.
Israel’s attorney-general accused Netanyahu on Friday of breaking the law by ignoring a conflict of interest over his ongoing trial for corruption and getting directly involved in the judicial overhaul plan. He denies the graft charges.
‘We’re here to protest’
In London, protesters wanted to talk about Netanyahu’s move on the judiciary, which has caused fear at home and abroad for the country’s democratic checks and balances.
“We’re here to protest against Netanyahu, to protest against his attacks on democracy,” said Amnon Cohn, who described himself as an Israeli living in London since 2005.
Outside Downing Street, protesters — surrounded by British police and restricted by metal barricades — waved signs saying “You can’t enjoy a weekend in London when you’re bringing down a democracy!”
“We are more determined than Bibi is,” said Liron Rosiner Reshef, an Israeli-born protester in London, using a popular nickname for Netanyahu.
“This is a war for human rights … This is a war for all Israelis to fight,” said Rosiner, who has lived in London for 13 years and hopes to one day return to Israel with her husband and three children.
British Jews and Israelis have taken part in several large demonstrations in London in recent weeks, gathering in Westminster for “Defend Israeli Democracy” events.