Berlin protests Likud minister’s claim that German, Iranian money funding protests

Responding to Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan’s assertion, Ambassador Seibert decries comparison of Germany, an ally, with regime dedicated to Israel’s annihilation

Steffen Seibert, German Ambassador to Israel and former spokesman for the German government, speaks during a handover ceremony in Berlin. December 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Steffi Loos)
Steffen Seibert, German Ambassador to Israel and former spokesman for the German government, speaks during a handover ceremony in Berlin. December 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Steffi Loos)

German Ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, hit back at “disappointing” claims made by Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, that asserted “German and Iranian money” was behind ongoing anti-government protests sparked by government plans to overhaul the judiciary.

Speaking to Army Radio on Tuesday, Atbaryan, from the Likud party, said that “funding from foreign nations and actors, most of whom are antisemitic, taking people out into the streets without them knowing that the money behind the protests ultimately comes from countries like Germany or Iran – that’s what’s on the [political] left.”

Seibert called out the minister’s comparison between Germany, an ally of Israel, and Iran, a sworn enemy state that openly declares its desire to annihilate the Jewish state.

“It is disappointing that Minister Galit Distel chose in this context to mention Germany, a friend and democratic partner of Israel, alongside totalitarian Iran,” the Haaretz daily quoted Seibert as saying.

The German diplomat continued: “I believe that in this freedom-seeking country, Israelis in general need no instructions from abroad to protest for what they believe in.”

Siebert said he hoped to meet Atbaryan in the near future to “discuss this personally.”

Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan reacts during a plenum session for the Knesset’s 74th birthday, in the assembly hall of the Knesset, in Jerusalem, February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition led by Netanyahu has been pushing a dramatic overhaul that would increase government control over the judiciary, allow it to override court decisions with the barest majority, and give it full power over judicial appointments.

Critics say that along with other planned legislation, the sweeping reforms will impact Israel’s democratic character by upsetting its system of checks and balances, granting almost complete power to the executive branch, and leaving individual rights unprotected and minorities undefended.

In her interview with Army Radio, Atbaryan took aim at those opposed to the judicial makeover, accusing them of using the international media to ramp up domestic pressure on the government.

Referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, Atbaryan said “this is no longer BDS from the outside, but BDS [from within Israel].”

“None of us on the right ever turned to outside actors. None of us ever briefed journalists abroad against Israel. Not Netanyahu and not anyone on the right. Nobody incited rebellion like Ehud Barak is doing,” she said.

Last week, former prime minister Ehud Barak made comparisons between President Isaac Herzog’s reconciliation attempts with that of former UK prime minister Neville Chamberlain’s appeasement efforts vis-à-vis Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Barak later walked back the comparison and apologized.

Atbaryan insisted she was “not lumping together all the people marching at the protests.”

“They’re good people, my brothers and sisters. I am convinced that many of them are unaware of the truth. As much as we try to sit down for a respectful, factual debate, they refuse.”

Directly addressing the legal overhaul championed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, she said the move “will strengthen democracy and return the ever-important balance between the branches and power to the people. Right now Israel is not democratic.”

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