1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Berlin: Scholz questions Netanyahu on Israel justice reform

March 16, 2023

The two spoke of defense cooperation as well as the chancellor's "concern" over Israel's intended judicial reforms. Israeli PM Netanyahu called the visit historic but said some of the public criticism was "preposterous."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanjahu (l) and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (r) in Berlin
Netanyahu (l) and Scholz (r) spoke of the historical importance of Thursday's visit for their countriesImage: Chrisrtian Ditsch/epd

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Thursday welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Berlin. The two discussed defense cooperation as well as German concerns over a controversial push by Netanyahu and his right-wing governing coalition to overhaul the Jewish state's judicial system.

"As partners who share democratic values and as close friends of Israel, we are following this debate very closely — and I will not conceal this: With great concern," Scholz said, adding, "Our wish is that our partner in values, Israel, remains a liberal democracy."

Netanyahu and his government have come under intense fire both at home and abroad over the proposed reforms, which critics say threaten to weaken the country's independent judiciary. Netanyahu said he intends to fast-track the measure, implying he would not consult the opposition before making any decisions.

Scholz concerned over Israel's judicial reform plans

He also said critics of his proposed reform were not being fair: "Israel is being constantly maligned. I'm supposed to be some... potentate who's abolishing democracy and all this nonsense," he complained after talks with Scholz. "This is absurd, it's preposterous."

The prime minister argued the reforms were needed to balance the country's various branches of government. When asked what balance he would support, Netanyahu said, "I support a balance that will seem balanced to me."

German Central Council of Jews also questions reform

Scholz was not the only critic Netanyahu met on Thursday. 

Earlier in the day Netanyahu participated in a commemoration ceremony at the Platform 17 Holocaust Memorial in Berlin's Grunewald neighborhood.

The memorial in Berlin serves as a reminder of the German use of trains to transport Jews and other prisoners to concentration and extermination camps, often located in occupied territory further into eastern Europe, during the Holocaust.

Netanyahu and Scholz appeared there with Josef Schuster, president of the German Central Council of Jews. 

Schuster also rebuked Netanyahu, saying: "I expressed my concern to the prime minister that his government is increasingly dividing Israeli society and is in the process of squandering trust in democratic Israel."

Benjamin Netanyahu laying a wreath at the Plattform 17 Holocaust Memorial as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stands behind him
More than 10,000 Jews were deported to Nazi death camps from Platform 17Image: Matthias Rietschel/REUTERS

While at the Platform 17 Memorial, Netanyahu said his country had a right to self-defense amid repeated threats to its existence, a reference in large part to Iran, which Netanyahu's government had said would be the main focus of the trip. 

"We know that the calls for the annihilation of our people have not stopped. The main lesson that we've learned: When you are faced with such evil you have to obstruct it in its early designs, early on, to prevent catastrophe." 

Speaking of German support, Netanyahu said Israel "welcomes the friendship of those who share our values and concerns."

Scholz emphasized Berlin's historical responsibility toward the Jewish state as a result of the Holocaust.

Historic defense agreement between Germany and Israel

The arc of history was not lost on Netanyahu, who also spoke of the relationship that has grown between the two countries over the decades: "78 years ago, we were nothing. Less than 80 years later, a representative of a sovereign Jewish state is speaking with the leader of a new Germany, a different Germany, about using Israeli defense systems to protect German airspace." 

Germany is considering acquisition of Israel's Arrow 3 air defense system in light of the growing threat represented by Russia, now currently engaged in a war of aggression in Ukraine. For its part, Israel is doing its best to push forward the deal for the system, produced by Israeli Aerospace Industries.

As the Arrow 3 is made in cooperation with US aerospace giant Boeing, any sales would also require final approval from Washington. Scholz on Thursday said "big progress" had been made during talks.

Netanyahu was scheduled to meet German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier later in the day before returning to Israel.

His trip, initially scheduled to last one day longer, had to be cut short due to widespread protests at home over his proposed judicial reforms.

Meanwhile, in central Berlin, police reported that between 400 and 500 people had attended a planned demonstration designed to coincide with Netanyahu's visit. Police said that organizers had expected up to 1,000 people, and that the demonstration was peaceful.

js/msh (AFP, dpa, Reuters)