German minister concerned about Israel's judicial overhaul

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's foreign minister voiced concern about the Israeli government's plans to overhaul the country's legal system during a visit Tuesday by her Israeli counterpart, and said that introducing the death penalty for Palestinians convicted in deadly attacks would be “a big mistake.”

Israel has seen large and regular protests in recent weeks against the judicial overhaul proposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new coalition government, which includes a bill that would enable lawmakers to overturn a Supreme Court decision with a simple majority.

The plans are moving steadily ahead despite calls for dialogue and consensus from American Jews and Israel’s president. Protesters argue that the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values and would concentrate power with the ruling coalition in parliament. Netanyahu and his ruling coalition believe the court has had unchecked power for years.

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said at a news conference in Berlin with Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen that “we abroad are concerned about some Israeli legislative plans.”

“The values that bind us together include the protection of principles of the rule of law such as judicial independence,” she added. “This was always a hallmark of Israel.”

Cohen said that Israel is “a vibrant democracy” and declared that “in the end of the day, our judicial reform will strengthen the Israeli democracy.”

Baerbock signaled “particular concern” over the bill to impose the death penalty on Palestinians convicted in fatal attacks. That measure has been given initial approval by an Israeli ministerial committee and sent to lawmakers for further debate.

She noted that Germany opposes the death penalty everywhere and argued that it has proven ineffective as a deterrent. The minister added that Germans are taught in school that Israel has only carried out the death penalty in one case — that of Adolf Eichmann, who played a major role in the Holocaust, in the early 1960s — despite facing a bigger terror threat than any other country.

“This was always an impressive argument for those of us who have defended Israel against unfair criticism on the international stage,” Baerbock said. “So, as a friend, I am convinced it would be a big mistake to break with this history.”

Germany is a close ally of Israel in Europe and has traditionally refrained from strong public criticism of its government.