Hundreds of Israeli writers, artists and intellectuals have called on Germany and Britain to cancel upcoming visits by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his plan to overhaul Israel’s judicial system has put Israel on a destructive course.
In a letter addressed to the German and British ambassadors in Israel on Tuesday, some 1,000 Israeli figures said that Israel is in the midst of the most extreme crisis in its history.
“In the face of Mr. Netanyahu’s dangerous and destructive leadership, and in light of a vast democratic civilian resistance against the destruction of state institutions by undemocratic law-making, we are asking that Germany and Great Britain swiftly announce to the defendant Netanyahu that his planned state visits to your countries are cancelled,” reads the letter.
“If these visits go ahead as planned, a dark shadow will hang over them.”
The letter was signed by internationally acclaimed author David Grossman, novelist Dorit Rabinyan, Oscar-nominated director Uri Barbash and scores of academics, business figures and professionals.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday in Berlin, where Israeli expats say they are organising a large protest against their visiting prime minister.
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert joined the chorus of critical voices on Tuesday, saying British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak should also refuse to meet Netanyahu because of the Israeli leader’s alliance with far-right politicians who he said have tolerated or even supported violent illegal settlers in occupied West Bank.
“Everyone that loves Israel should be against this government,” Olmert, a fierce Netanyahu rival, told reporters. He said Sunak should “tell him ‘go to hell. I don’t want to see you. I don’t want to talk to a government that does these things.'”
Fragile system at risk
Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of extreme-right hardliners and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken Israel’s Supreme Court and give them control over the appointment of the nation’s judges.
They say the plan is a long-overdue measure to curb what they see as outsize influence by unelected judges, but critics say the plan will destroy Israel’s fragile system of checks and balances by concentrating power in the hands of Netanyahu and his parliamentary majority.
They also say it is an attempt by Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to escape justice.
Tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past two months to protest the sweeping overhaul.
Protests last week were so large that Netanyahu was forced to take a helicopter to the airport in order to catch a flight for an official visit to Italy.
High-tech leaders, Nobel-winning economists and prominent security officials have spoken out against it, military reservists have threatened to stop reporting for duty and even some of Israel’s closest allies, including the US, have urged Netanyahu to slow down.
Repeated efforts by Israel’s figurehead President Isaac Herzog to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.
Netanyahu returned to power in December, following the country’s fifth election in under four years, at the head of the most far-right government in Israel’s 75-year history.