German MPs salute Israeli protesters battling Netanyahu reforms

Politicians' debate in Berlin marks 75th anniversary of Israel's formation

Many Israelis have taken to the streets to protest against a judicial overhaul by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. AP
Powered by automated translation

German MPs on Friday praised protesters in Israel who have piled pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to drop a bill that critics say would undermine democracy.

In a debate to mark 75 years since the State of Israel’s foundation, German politicians also condemned recent rocket fire in the region and called for efforts to achieve a two-state solution.

Germany generally treads carefully with criticism of Israel because of what it calls its “special responsibility” to the country after the murder of six million Jews by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust.

Watched by Israel’s ambassador in Berlin, members of mainstream parties reaffirmed the German commitment to Israel’s security and rejected far-right calls to “draw a line” under remembrance of the Nazi era.

But protesters in Israel “do not take criticism of the current Israeli government, shaped by real concern, as inappropriate”, said Dietmar Nietan, a member of Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats.

“The growing political influence of radical forces, including in the current Israeli government … makes us despair as friends of Israel,” he said.

“The many dedicated people in Israel who are defending liberal democracy in their country in nationwide protests are also looking for signals from outside.”

Israel has faced mass protests, general strikes and even rumblings of dissent in the military after Mr Netanyahu moved to curb the powers of Supreme Court judges.

Mr Netanyahu has paused the reform bill but still argues that it is necessary. His opponents say it would hand the government unchecked power and undermine Israeli democracy.

Israel's ambassador to Germany Ron Prosor, second right, watched the debate in Berlin with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. EPA

“Hundreds of thousands of people in Israel have campaigned in a clear and determined way for democracy and the rule of law to remain at the core of politics,” said German Green party MP Katharina Droege.

“I have to say very honestly that their dedication is an example to us all.”

German opposition leader Friedrich Merz, from the centre-right Christian Democrats, said politicians in Berlin viewed Israeli politics “with some concern”.

But he said: “My impression is that this struggle in Israel about its identity and state institutions is not a weakness of the system but an expression of the strength of Israeli democracy.

“We all hope that Israel with its vibrant democracy and its attentive civil society will make the right decisions for itself.”

Germany on Thursday took part in talks with France, Jordan and Egypt to urge a ceasefire in Gaza after what the four countries said were unacceptable civilian casualties.

Some German MPs condemned recent rocket attacks and the influence of Iran on armed anti-Israel groups such as Hezbollah.

Mr Nietan said a “happy future” for Israel could only be achieved when there is “internal and external peace”.

“As far as the Middle East conflict is concerned, we should not join the ranks of those who think we should simply manage the status quo,” he said.

“The two-state solution should remain the goal which the friends of Israel should unite behind.”

Updated: May 12, 2023, 10:27 AM