Crowds have protested plans to overhaul Israel’s judiciary as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited his British counterpart, Rishi Sunak, in London.
Hundreds of demonstrators shouted “shame” in Hebrew and waved signs calling for the defence of Israeli democracy as Netanyahu arrived at 10 Downing Street on Friday for discussions that focused on the war in Ukraine and concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme.
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One placard in London read: “We are Israelis and Jews living in the UK demonstrating against Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is leading a judicial coup turning Israel into a dictatorship.”
Some women wore red robes and white caps inspired by The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel and TV series set in a dystopian, totalitarian future. Similarly clad demonstrators have become fixtures at the mass protests roiling Israel.
Women said they were protesting to ward off what they believe will be an undemocratic future, one in which they believe they will be the first to be harmed.
Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, which limit the Supreme Court’s powers to rule against the legislature and the executive branch of government, have sparked mass protests in Israel and beyond.
Sunak raised the issue with Netanyahu, stressing “the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel”, his office said in an official readout of the meeting.
He also “expressed his solidarity with Israel in the face of terrorist attacks in recent months” while noting unspecified actions risked “undermining efforts” towards a two-state solution with the Palestinians, Sunak’s office said.
Spokesman Jamie Davies said the British leader “reiterated our support for a two-state solution”, and Britain’s view that Israel’s West Bank settlements are illegal and “contrary to the cause of peace”.
“Israel is a vital international partner for the United Kingdom, and the prime minister was visiting London, and this was an important opportunity to talk about issues that matter to both countries, whether that’s the threat of Iran, Russia, new trade and investment as well as peace and stability in the Middle East,” Davies said.
Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders discussed the nuclear programme of Israel’s archenemy, Iran, as well as “deepening strategic cooperation in security, intelligence and economic fields”.
Netanyahu made the visit days after the two countries signed a wide-ranging “2030 road map”, which London said “will drive our bilateral relationship forward” as it looks to strike a post-Brexit free trade deal.
Netanyahu is also expected to meet interior minister Suella Braverman, who herself has faced stinging criticism over UK plans to deter asylum-seekers. They plan to discuss countering global terrorism.
The Israeli prime minister arrived in the UK as protesters at home blocked roads and clashed with police during some of the biggest protests in Israel’s history.
Netanyahu’s right-wing government has also been criticised for its hard-line policy towards Palestinians, including recent comments by a government minister who denied the existence of the Palestinian people and their right to self-determination.
Thousands of people took to the streets across Israel on Thursday, hours after Netanyahu’s coalition government passed a law making it harder to remove him from office.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, defiantly pledged to proceed with the judicial overhaul, declaring in a televised address that he would try to pass a central part of the package next week.
On Friday, Israel’s attorney general accused the prime minister of breaking the law by ignoring a conflict of interest over his ongoing trial for corruption and getting directly involved in his government’s judicial overhaul plan.
Netanyahu pushed back his departure to Britain on Friday to deal with the political crisis.