Almost 100 prominent UK Jews voice ‘profound concern’ about overhaul, welcome pause

In letter to Netanyahu and Herzog signed by former judicial, political and business officials, they call for selection of judges to remain ‘free of political pressure’

Demonstrators protest on Whitehall, ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Downing Street in central London on March 24, 2023. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)
Demonstrators protest on Whitehall, ahead of a visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to meet with Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at Downing Street in central London on March 24, 2023. (Photo by ISABEL INFANTES / AFP)

Almost 100 prominent British Jews sent Israeli leaders an open letter Wednesday expressing “profound concern” about the government’s bid to overhaul the justice system and welcoming the legislative pause announced this week to allow for dialogue with the opposition.

The letter, addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog — who is hosting the compromise negotiations — came four days after the premier concluded a visit to the United Kingdom, during which hundreds of Israelis and Jews demonstrated against him and UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stressed to him the importance of “democratic values.”

Israel’s attorney general has warned that the package of legislation — which would give the coalition almost complete control over all judicial appointments, and radically constrain the High Court — would hand the government virtually unrestrained power, without providing any institutional protections for individual rights or for Israel’s democratic character.

Wednesday’s letter was signed by 98 British Jews, including former Supreme Court president Lord David Neuberger, former Supreme Court judge Lord John Dyson, former politician Lord Michael Levy, former MP Luciana Berger, philanthropist Dame Vivien Duffield, prominent businessman Jonathan Goldstein and former journalist and politician Lord Daniel Finkelstein.

“As British Jews, and as supporters of a secure and democratic Israel, we express our profound concern and opposition” to the legislation pushed for the past three months by the government, said the letter.

“We also express our deep concern over the needless and growing division in society that has been created by this process,” they added.

They hailed the pause announced by Netanyahu on Monday and added that they “encourage those from all parties to use the coming days and weeks to find a way forward so that those from all parties ensure that the appointment of judges remains free of political pressure and that judicial scrutiny is safeguarded for the benefit of all citizens of Israel, whether Jew, Arab, religious or secular.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, left, welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at 10 Downing Street in London, March 24, 2023. (AP Photo/Alberto Pezzali)

Netanyahu’s visit to Britain last weekend was largely overshadowed by the issue of the legal overhaul and the protests against Netanyahu, whose Friday meeting with Sunak appeared to be toned down, and in an unusual move, there was no public address of any kind from the two leaders.

While the Israeli readout of the meeting did not mention anything about the judicial overhaul that is dominating headlines about Israel around the world, the British readout noted that Sunak stressed to Netanyahu “the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel.”

The statement from 10 Downing Street also stressed “international concern at growing tensions in the West Bank,” and encouraged “all efforts to de-escalate, particularly ahead of the upcoming religious holidays.”

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