Former Israeli officials rallied European support in Brussels against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's planned judicial reforms on Monday shortly after he announced a delay.
“What you see now in Israel, these are no judicial reforms,” said Israeli politician and former minister Tzipi Livni, referring to the government’s plans to limit the Supreme Court’s powers and give politicians greater control over judicial appointments.
“This is turning the Jewishness of the state of Israel into a religious aspect instead of a national one, and trying to minimise the nature of Israel as a democracy.”
She was speaking in a recorded video message at a conference on Israel organised at the European Parliament.
Former Israeli ambassador to France Elie Barnavi described Mr Netanyahu's government as a "bunch of barbarians who hate democracy".
But he also said he was "proud" of his fellow citizens for organising massive protests in the past weeks.
"I didn't expect this, and Netanyahu didn't either," Mr Barnavi said.
Speaking to The National shortly before the conference at a rally outside EU institutions, he called on the EU to “draw red lines" when it comes to Israel, a historical ally.
“It’s not business as usual any more,” he said.
“Words are no longer enough, we want action. It means economic sanctions against the colonies, and ideally, a ban against settlers on entering the EU."
Mr Barnavi also said he feared that Israel's enemies, including Iran and Lebanese militia Hezbollah, would seize on the opportunity to further destabilise the country.
"It's a blessed opportunity for them," he said.
Emily Bowman, policy officer at the European Union for Jewish students, an organisation which supports Jewish students in Europe, said that she did not usually comment on internal Israeli policies but that the unprecedented nature of Mr Netanyahu's judicial reforms compelled her to.
"This is a threat to democracy and democratic values," Mr Bowman told The National.
She said that as a European Jew, she cared about the state of Israeli democracy.
“Israel’s very dear to every Jewish person’s heart," Ms Bowman said. "We are all Zionists. We are all lovers of Israel here. That’s the point. That’s why we are all here."
The image of Israel as a thriving democracy must be maintained in order for the country to keep maintain its strong links with other democracies, warned Maurice Levy, chairman of the supervisory board of Publicis, one of the world’s largest communication groups, based in Paris.
In a video message at the European Parliament conference, Mr Levy said he hoped the Israeli government would be able to recognise it had “gone too far.”
“It is essential not only for the image of Israel but also for its place in the world arena,” he said.
Guilt over the Holocaust, which saw the near-extinction of Europe’s Jewish population during the Second World War, has paralysed the public debate within the EU on Israel to this day, according to MEP Bernard Guetta.
Mr Guetta, from the centre group Renew, organised Monday’s conference on Israel with JCall, a non-profit lobby group at the European Parliament on Middle Eastern affairs.
“It’s extraordinarily difficult to get the European Parliament to react to what is happening in Israel today,” he said.
Mr Guetta was referring to a debate in the European Parliament on Israel held two weeks ago during which the EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell, said he had received an angry phone call from Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Elie Cohen accusing the bloc of meddling in Israeli affairs.
Mr Guetta said that, at the time, his calls for political and economic reprisals by the EU against Israel for undermining democracy created a “terrible unease” among his fellow MEPs at the plenary session.
“The Shoah is European, and the guilt is huge,” he said.