Israel is my only home, even though I've been in Germany for eight years," says Ben Fisher in front of the Brandenburg Gate. The 40-year-old has lived in Germany for eight years and otherwise never protests, he says. But in view of the planned judicial reform, he is concerned about democracy in his home country. "The separation of powers will be dissolved," he said. Otherwise, protests in this country are often directed against Israel - today it is different.
Fisher wants to show that this Thursday afternoon with more than 1,000 other Israelis in front of the Brandenburg Gate. Israeli flags wave, they sing "democracy" and dance to Israeli pop music. "Israelis for the future of Israel" reads the signs or "The accused does not appoint his judges".
At this time, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been invited to Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier; before that he was for talks with Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD).
Israel's far-right government is planning to rebalance the separation of powers: In the future, a simple parliamentary majority should be able to overrule the Supreme Court, even when it comes to state principles such as equality.
The Jewish state has therefore been dominated for weeks by one of the largest protest movements in the young country's history. Half a million Israelis demonstrated last Saturday, around 200,000 of them in Tel Aviv. Two-thirds of the population oppose the judicial reform, according to a February poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute.
The protests are special: the usual party lines hardly seem to apply here anymore, and Israeli flags dominate the picture. Israeli Navy reservists blocked the port of Haifa with boats on Thursday morning. When Netanyahu traveled to Rome last week, some pilots of the national airline "El Al" refused to fly to the prime minister.
And on Thursday Netanyahu brought the protests to Berlin.
Alisa Vekster has come from Düsseldorf to demonstrate against her prime minister. "Our democracy is under threat," says the 28-year-old, who is doing a master's degree in Düsseldorf. Vekster follows the news in Israel, talks to her family. "Netanyahu is only interested in his immunity, he wants to save his ass," she says, referring to the corruption allegations against the head of government.
And he is jeopardizing the future of his country, the high-tech industry or academic exchange. Her friend Hadar Guttelman-Hamburger agrees. "It hurts me to see what's happening at home," she says. "I want to set an example here."
Yael Hajor also wants that. "If the structure of the state is changed, the separation of powers is dissolved, then that is no longer a democracy," said the organizer of the Berlin protest to WELT. The student lives in Berlin and took part in a campaign in the past that flew Israelis abroad to vote back home, as they are only allowed to vote there. "We want to show our solidarity with the protests in Israel," said the 33-year-old.
This is causing Netanyahu increasing problems. Even his departure for Germany was associated with a number of hurdles: demonstrators blocked the highways to the airport on Wednesday, including soldiers from "Operation Entebbe", in which Netanyahu's brother Jonathan was killed.
However, the Prime Minister was still in the Knesset at the time, as Israel's President Isaac Herzog presented a compromise plan. In a speech, Herzog even warned of a “civil war”. He called the government's reform plans a "danger to the foundations of our democracy". Herzog wants to set the hurdles for overruling the Supreme Court to a parliamentary majority of 80 out of 120 votes, instead of the simple majority planned by the governing coalition. But Netanyahu's coalition blocked in the evening, wanting nothing to do with Herzog's compromise.
Scholz and Netanyahu met on Thursday in Berlin-Grunewald and laid wreaths of flowers at the track 17 memorial. From here the Germans deported Jews to concentration and extermination camps between 1941 and 1942. The two heads of government emphasized the close historical connection between their states. And Netanyahu on Israel's need to remain defensive: "We know that the calls for the annihilation of Israel have not stopped."
The warnings about Iran were the main topic of their conversation at noon, said Netanyahu in a joint press conference with Scholz at noon. "The Jewish people will not allow a second holocaust," Netanyahu said, referring to Iran's nuclear program. They also talked about the sale of an Israeli missile defense system. Germany plans to acquire the Arrow 3 system from Israel. Both states would like to expand their cooperation, for example through youth exchanges.
Chancellor Scholz received Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu at the Chancellery in Berlin. It is Netanyahu's first visit to Germany since taking office again in December. WELT editor-in-chief Jennifer Wilton explains the special relationship between the two statesmen.
Nevertheless, judicial reform was also the focus here. "Israel is a liberal democracy and will remain a liberal democracy," Netanyahu assured. Even after the reform, the separation of powers will remain in place. "An independent judiciary is not an all-powerful judiciary," he said.
Scholz obviously saw things differently: The federal government is following developments with "great concern": "For us, Israel's democracy is a very important value partner," said Scholz. He also defends this in negotiations with other countries in the world. "The independence of the judiciary is a great democratic good, we agree on that," said Scholz.
Scholz praised the proposal by Israeli President Herzog - and appealed for an "amicable solution" that would be supported by a social majority in Israel. "As friends of Israel, we would like that the last word has not yet been spoken on this proposal," said Scholz about Herzog's initiative.
Netanyahu also addressed his words to Israel. "There is a desire to create a crisis," he said, referring to the protests in the country. There are no constructive advances by the opposition towards a joint process, he claimed.
Ben Fisher is hoping for an agreement, an end to judicial reform and a new government. "A right-wing government is one thing, but a government with criminals is not allowed," he says. "I am a Zionist and my country should remain a good one, also for my children."
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