Netanyahu says he is ‘attentive’ to protests, vows ‘responsible’ judicial changes
At briefing in Berlin, PM hints overhaul package will be softened, but says it ‘must match the mandate we got’ in the election; slams Herzog for ‘brushing aside’ coalition concerns
Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter
BERLIN — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that he is paying attention to the protests against his government’s judicial overhaul plan, and intends to work toward a compromise deal while rejecting the one put forward by President Isaac Herzog.
“I am attentive to what is happening among the people,” he told journalists in a briefing following his meeting in Berlin with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “But we have to bring something that matches the mandate we received, and we will do this responsibly.”
Netanyahu also called Herzog’s judicial reform proposal — which the president presented Wednesday evening — “a major missed opportunity.”
“What was brought in front of the president from the coalition regarding the appointment of judges included a two-stage framework — an immediate fix to some extent, and then balance afterward,” he continued. “The president heard these things and brushed them aside, unfortunately.”
“This is not the people’s framework,” Netanyahu said, referring to Herzog’s proposal by the name the president gave it. “I’m not sure it’s half the people’s framework.”
Regarding his meeting with Scholz, Netanyahu said that “there were no conditions placed by the chancellor on relations with Israel as a result of the judicial reform, especially not anything having to do with security ties.”
A senior Israeli official traveling with Netanyahu said that the Israeli delegation had been expecting a confrontation in the meeting with Scholz, but it never came. It was Netanyahu who brought up the ongoing battle over the judicial shakeup, the official said, saying at some point during the leaders’ sitdown: “Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.”
The German officials at the meeting were extremely interested in hearing the details of the government’s judicial overhaul plans, according to the official. They told Netanyahu that when it comes to the internal battle: “You have to solve it in your way. We would be happy if it was by broad consensus.”
“We are not joining any campaign [against the overhaul],” Scholz told Netanyahu, according to the official. “We are not part of any campaign.”
At the same time, Scholz didn’t hesitate to speak openly about the controversy, saying at a press conference Thursday alongside Netanyahu that “democracy is not [only] majority rule, but it’s also the security of those who are minorities and who might always remain minorities.”
A briefing given to Netanyahu by Israeli Ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor had cast doubt on the likelihood of a personal connection being created between Netanyahu and the taciturn Scholz. But according to the Israelis, the meeting was surprisingly warm and at times entertaining.
Thursday marked the first time the two leaders have met in person. Netanyahu invited Scholz to Israel as part of a government-to-government meeting.
The leaders also discussed the sale of Israel’s Arrow 3 anti-ballistic missile defense system to Germany. The two sides reached an initial agreement, but there are more steps that need to be taken.
“They see Israel as one of the leading countries for military procurement and technology,” said the official. Germany is pursuing a 100 billion euro ($106 billion) rearmament program in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Naturally, Scholz and Netanyahu discussed that war, the issue that has dominated policy in Germany over the past year.
Israel has sent tons of humanitarian aid and assistance over the past year, but so far stopped short of supplying Kyiv with military aid, citing its tangled relations with Russia as they both operate in Syria. According to a report on Thursday, Israel authorized the sale of defensive military equipment to Ukraine for the first time since Russia’s invasion.