Netanyahu to be met by protests in London: ‘Don’t expect a relaxing weekend’

PM to spend weekend in British capital, but unclear if he’ll meet Jewish leaders; report says PM Sunak, UK officials undecided whether they’ll publicly criticize judicial overhaul

A flyer stuck to the side of a London Underground carriage on March 20, 2023 announcing demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to London (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright law)
A flyer stuck to the side of a London Underground carriage on March 20, 2023 announcing demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to London (Channel 12 screenshot; used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright law)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be met by protesters against his government’s judicial overhaul when he arrives at Downing Street in London on Friday for a meeting with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Organizers of demonstrations against the judicial overhaul have announced there will be a rally held in central London, when Netanyahu is expected to arrive.

Signs have been spotted around London giving details of the protest and saying “Bibi should not expect a relaxing weekend in London.”

Earlier this month, hundreds of protesters in London held signs in both Hebrew and English reading “A government of criminals will not appoint judges” and “Israelis for the future of Israel.” They chanted “Democracy,” and some showed up in “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes that have become a hallmark of the protests in Israel.

According to Channel 12 news, Sunak and British officials have not yet decided whether the British prime minister will publicly criticize Netanyahu’s government over its efforts to radically shake up the judicial branch.

During the premier’s trip to Germany earlier this month, Chancellor Olaf Scholz urged Netanyahu to consider an alternative judicial reform plan put forward by President Isaac Herzog — which was quickly rejected by the coalition — and said Berlin was watching the debate unfold “with great concern.”

Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks during a press conference following the launch of new legislation on migrant channel crossings at Downing Street, London, March 7, 2023. (Leon Neal/Pool Photo via AP)

While the Prime Minister’s Office said Netanyahu will travel to London on Thursday and return Saturday evening after Shabbat, no details have been provided regarding his plans while in the United Kingdom.

There has been no announcement of any meetings with Jewish communal leaders.

According to Channel 12, it was not yet clear if such meetings would be held, raising further questions about the need for the premier and his wife to spend days in the British capital.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews umbrella organization said in a statement Tuesday that it “would appreciate the opportunity to meet [Netanyahu] to discuss the ongoing situation in the country” during his trip, especially in light of the UK Jewish community’s “close emotional, spiritual and familial connection to Israel.”

But the group noted that “we understand that given the brief nature of his visit, such a meeting may not be possible.”

Hundreds rally against the Israeli government’s controversial judicial overhaul proposal in London, March 12, 2023. (Twitter video screenshot: Used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was set to meet with his counterpart James Cleverly in London on Tuesday. The two will discuss Iran, as well as sign a roadmap for deepening technological and health cooperation over the next decade, according to the ministry.

Netanyahu’s trip will be his third to a European capital in as many weeks, after his visit to Berlin this week and Rome last weekend, where he was also met with protests. Netanyahu also visited Paris last month.

Netanyahu’s departure for London will coincide with the start of Ramadan, amid concerns of potential violence with Palestinians. Tensions have frequently flared during the Muslim holy month.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, March 13, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Thursday will also see a so-called “day of paralysis” as anti-overhaul protesters escalate action as the coalition charges ahead with the legislation.

Previous demonstrations have seen attempts to block access to the airport. When Netanyahu flew to Berlin he was forced to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport by helicopter as demonstrators blockaded the airfield.

Thousands of Israeli protesters rally against the government’s judicial overhaul bills in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2023. (Gili Yaari /Flash90)

Netanyahu’s coalition, a collection of right-wing, ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, has barreled ahead with legislation that aims to weaken the court’s ability to serve as a check on parliament, as well as give the government control over the appointment of judges. There have been weekly mass protests for over two months against the planned legislation, and a flurry of objections by top public figures including the president, jurists, business leaders and others.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis participated in nationwide demonstrations held for the 11th straight Saturday evening.

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