Netanyahu set for UK visit next week – first since retaking office

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Netanyahu set for UK visit next week – first since retaking office

The Israeli prime minister will visit Berlin on Wednesday where he will discuss the Iranian nuclear programme with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

Prime Minister Netanyahu leaving 10 Downing Street, London after talks with then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September 2019. (Photo credit: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)
Prime Minister Netanyahu leaving 10 Downing Street, London after talks with then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in September 2019. (Photo credit: Aaron Chown/PA Wire)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to visit the UK for the first time since retaking office, according to Israeli media reports.

Netanyahu is expected to meet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said in December: “Next year I will visit Israel on what will be its 75th birthday and landmark year.”

The Israeli leader is currently travelling to Berlin where he will meet with Chancellor Olaf Scholz and President Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Netanyahu’s office issued a statement saying he will discuss “various diplomatic and security issues, especially Iran and developments in the region” with Scholz, and that he will “emphasise the need to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.”

In an interview with Jewish News, former Israeli ambassador to Germany, Jeremy Issacharoff said that the relationship between the two allies was “extremely close” when he represented Israel in Berlin from 2017-2022.

Issacharoff highlighted strong support Israel received from Germany during the 2021 Gaza war with Hamas, saying the level of bilateral relations was at the “highest” but that he was certain it would continue with the two new governments.

The former ambassador also stressed that the relationship between Germany and Israel is one between the German and Israeli people and not “two persons”, in a reference to the heads of governments.

“I have no doubt that there are concerns in these countries regarding what’s going on in Israel. President Steinmeier, who I know personally, is a great friend of Israel. But when he made his statement about how important democracy is and that changes should be done in a broad base, it’s something we should listen very carefully to,” Issacharoff.

“It’s not every day the President of Germany says that. And I emphasise that this is a profound friend of Israel,” he added.

Steinmeier made unprecedented remarks about the government’s judicial reforms last week, saying Germany was “concerned about the planned restructuring of the rule of law – especially because we Germans always greatly admired the strong and vibrant rule of law in Israel. Precisely because we know how necessary this strong and vibrant rule of law is in the region.”

Germany, Berlin, Berlin – The President of Israel Isaac Herzog and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the joint press conference

When Foreign Minister Eli Cohen visited Berlin last month, his counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, made similar remarks, saying: “The values that link us includes the protection of legal principles and the rule of law, like an independent judiciary. We in Germany, the German government, are firmly convinced that a strong democracy needs an independent judiciary that can also review majority decisions.”

The government’s judicial overhaul has however overshadowed the prime minister’s trips to France, Italy and now Germany and the UK, with protesters blocking the roads to Ben-Gurion airport to prevent Netanyahu from leaving.

During his stay in Rome last week, Israeli expats demonstrated against Netanyahu and the government’s reforms, something that is expected to be repeated in Berlin, where thousands of Israelis live.

Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a press conference in Rome, Italy, on March 10, 2023. Credit: Alberto Lingria/Xinhua/Alamy Live News

Ahead of Netanyahu’s visits to Berlin and London, some 1,000 Israeli intellectuals, academics, writers and artists sent a letter to the German and British ambassadors to Israel, urging the two countries to cancel his visit.

“In the face of Mr. Netanyahu’s dangerous and destructive leadership, and in light of a vast democratic civilian resistance against the destruction of state institutions by undemocratic law-making, we are asking that Germany and Great Britain swiftly announce to the defendant Netanyahu that his planned state visits to your countries are canceled. If these visits go ahead as planned, a dark shadow will hang over them,” the letter said.

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