UK’s Sunak stresses democratic values’ in talks with Netanyahu
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak stressed the need to defend “democratic values” in a meeting in Downing Street on Friday with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu, the UK leader’s office said.
Netanyahu landed in London after weeks of heightened protests in Israel over his government’s judicial reform program, which would increase politicians’ power over the courts and which critics argue is a threat to democracy.
While some of Israel’s overseas allies, including the leaders in the United States and Germany, are concerned about the controversial overhaul, the UK remains silent on the matter.
Sunak “stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including the proposed judicial reforms in Israel”, a Downing Street spokesman said in a summary of the meeting between the two leaders.
Hundreds of protesters, many with Israeli flags and placards critical of Netanyahu, gathered outside the gates on the street to heckle.
Some shouted “shame” in Hebrew as Sunak greeted the country’s former leader at the door of 10 Downing Street.
They erected the letters of the word “democracy” on nearby Whitehall, while waving signs accusing Netanyahu of dragging Israel towards a “dictatorship”.
“It is important to be here because at some point they may not have the right to protest in Israel,” Dana Drori, a mother of two in her 30s, told AFP at the protest, accompanied by her young daughters.
“It’s anger, it’s sadness,” she said of her feelings. “It’s hard to believe it’s becoming a dictatorship.”
In a televised address hours before he left for London, Netanyahu promised to restore unity within his increasingly fractured country, but gave little detail on how he would do that while still pursuing reforms.
– ‘Solidarity’ –
The UK government has not released many details about Netanyahu’s two-day visit.
It comes days after the two countries signed a broad “roadmap to 2030” agreement, which London said “will take our bilateral relationship forward” as it looks to achieve a post-Brexit free trade deal.
During their meeting, the two leaders discussed the “significant concerns of the United Kingdom and Israel about Iran’s destabilizing activity” and the risk of “nuclear proliferation” associated with its atomic program, Downing Street said.
They also talked about the war in Ukraine and developments in the Middle East, his statement noted.
Sunak “expressed his solidarity with Israel in light of the terrorist attacks in recent months” while noting that unspecified actions threatened to “undermine efforts” towards a two-state solution with the Palestinians, which he said.
“It encouraged all de-escalation efforts, especially before the upcoming religious holidays.”
Netanyahu is also due to meet interior minister Suella Braverman — who herself has faced sharp criticism of the UK’s controversial plans to deter asylum seekers — to discuss countering global terrorism.
Protests by pro-Palestinian groups and others opposed to Israel’s judicial reforms were held near Downing Street, including women’s rights campaigners dressed as characters from the dystopian drama “The Handmaid’s Tale”.
“As Palestinians from the diaspora we see ourselves on the front line of the fight for a free Palestine and when Netanyahu comes to visit our backyard, we have to protest,” said one 24-year-old protester, who gave her her name. except as Yasmine.