Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz has expressed his grave concern to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the planned judicial reform in Israel. "As democratic value partners and close friends of Israel, we are following this debate very closely and – I do not want to hide this – with great concern," Scholz said on Thursday after his meeting with Netanyahu in Berlin at a joint press conference in the Federal Chancellery. For weeks, there have been massive protests in Israel against the restructuring of the judiciary planned by the right-wing religious government.

He agreed with Netanyahu that the independence of the judiciary was "a high democratic good," the chancellor continued. It is good that Netanyahu seeks dialogue with many groups of society. It is important to find the "broadest possible consensus" on the issue. Scholz, however, welcomed Israeli President Isaac Herzog's initiative to reach a compromise in the dispute "to counteract further polarization in Israel." Herzog had submitted concrete proposals, said the Chancellor. "As friends of Israel, we would like to see the last word not yet spoken on this proposal," Scholz said.

"We remain a liberal democracy," says Netanyahu

The Israeli president presented his compromise proposal on Wednesday evening, but it was immediately rejected by the Netanyahu government. Herzog warned of a civil war in Israel in view of the hardened fronts. "Those who think civil war is impossible have no idea how close we are to it," he said.

In Berlin, Netanyahu rejected the accusation that the judiciary in Israel would be weakened by the reform. "Israel is a liberal democracy and we will remain a liberal democracy," he stressed. An independent judiciary is not an all-powerful judiciary. "We will do everything necessary to correct the imbalance." This should be changed by the planned reform. "We will not deviate an inch from it," Netanyahu said. He described the president's compromise proposal as "unbalanced".

The reform, which has already been largely approved by the Knesset, aims to drastically reduce the power of the judiciary. Among other things, it is provided that the parliament, the Knesset, can overturn decisions of the Constitutional Court by majority vote. The government argues that the judges arrogated political decisions. Critics of the government fear a lifting of the separation of powers and thus an erosion of democracy.