JERUSALEM (AP) — Hundreds of Israeli writers, artists and intellectuals on Tuesday 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 the country on a destructive course.
Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of ultranationalist 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 U.S., have urged Netanyahu to slow down. Repeated efforts by Israel’s figurehead president, Isaac Herzog, to broker a compromise have not yielded fruit.
In a letter addressed to the German and British ambassadors in Israel, some 1,000 Israeli figures said Tuesday that Israel is in the midst of the most extreme crisis in its history and that Netanyahu is trying to turn the country into a “theocratic dictatorship.”
“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 canceled,” 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 organizing a large protest against their visiting prime minister. The Israeli leader is reportedly heading to Britain in the coming weeks as well.
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 West Bank settlers.
“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.’”
Netanyahu returned to power in December, following the country’s fifth election in under four years, at the head of the most right-wing government in Israel’s 75-year history.
Late last month, settlers rampaged through a Palestinian town in the occupied West Bank after a Palestinian gunman killed two Israelis. The settlers burned dozens of cars and homes, and one Palestinian was killed.
Following the rampage, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a hard-line settler leader, said the Palestinian village should be “erased.” He later apologized for the comments following an international uproar.
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