Crowds have protested plans to overhaul Israel’s judiciary as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited his British counterpart, Rishi Sunak, in London.
Hundreds of protesters chanted “shame” in Hebrew and waved signs calling for the defense of Israeli democracy as Netanyahu arrived at 10 Downing Street on Friday for discussions about the war in Ukraine and concerns over Iran’s nuclear program.
A sign in London read: “We are Israelis and Jews living in the UK demonstrating against Prime Minister Netanyahu, who is leading a judicial coup and turning Israel into a dictatorship.”
Some of the 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, clothed demonstrators have become a fixture of mass protests in Israel.
Women said they were protesting to fend off what they believe will be an undemocratic future, one where 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, have sparked massive protests in Israel and beyond.
Sunak raised the issue with Netanyahu, emphasizing “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 reading of the meeting.
He also “expressed solidarity with Israel in light of the terrorist attacks in recent months,” noting that unspecified actions “threatened to undermine efforts for 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 Israeli settlements in the West Bank are illegal and “contrary to the cause of peace”.
“Israel is a vital international partner for the UK, and the Prime Minister was visiting London, and this was an important opportunity to talk about issues that are important to both countries, whether that be the threat from Iran, Russia, new trade and investment as well as peace and stability in the Middle East,” said Davies.
Netanyahu’s office said the two leaders discussed the nuclear program of Israel’s nemesis, Iran, as well as “deepening strategic cooperation on security, intelligence and economics.”
Netanyahu made the visit days after the two countries signed a comprehensive “roadmap for 2030” which London says will “propel our bilateral relationship” as it looks set to reach a post-Brexit free trade deal.
Netanyahu is also expected to meet Interior Minister Suella Braverman, who herself has faced sharp criticism of British plans to deter asylum seekers. They plan to talk about fighting global terrorism.
The Israeli prime minister arrived in the UK as protesters blocked roads at home and clashed with police during some of the largest protests in Israel’s history.
Netanyahu’s right-wing government has also been criticized for its harsh policies towards Palestinians, including recent remarks 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 more difficult to remove him from office.
Netanyahu, on trial for corruption, defiantly pledged to continue with the judicial review, stating 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 pending corruption trial and becoming directly involved in his government’s judicial review plan.
Netanyahu postponed his departure to Britain on Friday to deal with the political crisis.