Friday December 01, 2023

German minister in Israel as parliament partially OKs reforms

Published : 21 Feb 2023, 22:29

  By Christina Storz, dpa
German Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann lays a wreath at the Hall of Remembrance during his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum. Photo: Ilia Yefimovich/dpa.

German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann began his trip to Israel on Monday, amid tumultuous protests about controversial planned judicial reforms in the country.

Buschmann landed in Israel for a two-day visit, the first by a German minister since the new Israeli far-right government was sworn in late last year, which is deliberately trying to weaken the country's independent judiciary.

Late on Monday, Israel's parliament, the Knesset, approved part of the proposed legal reforms following an eight-hour session in what was the first of three readings.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets nationwide on Monday to protest against the government's plan to deliberately weaken the Supreme Court.

Demonstrators started blocking roads in the early hours and tried to prevent lawmakers from entering the Knesset building. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the protesters of "trampling on democracy."

The German justice minister did not comment directly on the planned reforms, but he did say: "Learning from history means recognizing that you should seek broad majorities if you want to change the rules of democratic competition and the interaction of constitutional bodies."

Buschmann opened a travelling exhibition in Tel Aviv on Monday detailing how Germany's Justice Ministry deals with its Nazi past.

The reappraisal of the ministry's history proved "shocking," said Buschmann. "Not only did too many people look the other way before 1945, too many did so after 1945."

The exhibition "The Rosenburg - The Federal Ministry in the Shadow of the Nazi Past" demonstrated failures in the ministry's prosecution of Nazi crimes, but also in how it dealt with its own employees after the war. For example, many lawyers who were also implicated in the Nazi regime were able to continue their careers after the end of the war.

Buschmann earlier also commemorated the victims of the Holocaust during a visit to the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

"From the land of the perpetrators, I am today a guest who bows to the victims," Buschmann wrote in the guest book. Every one of the lives that were extinguished shouts to the world "Never again," he said.

He also laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance in memory of the 6 million Jews murdered by Nazi Germany.

"To no other state are we so duty-bound. To no other state are we so indebted," Buschmann tweeted. "With my trip, I want to make my contribution: for the reappraisal of German history, for an expansion of our partnership, for the strengthening of the rule of law and liberal democracy."

Buschmann arrived the day after mass protests over the weekend.

It was the seventh consecutive week that people have protested against the Israeli government's controversial plans to weaken the Supreme Court.

The aim of the reforms is to give parliament the power to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority. Politicians are also to be given more influence in the appointment of judges.

Critics see this as a threat to the democratic separation of powers. They also fear that the reforms could allow Netanyahu to escape conviction in his corruption trial.

In the absence of a written constitution in Israel, the Supreme Court has a special role to play in upholding the rule of law and human rights. However, the extreme right religious government argues that the court currently exerts too much political influence.

The German justice minister is due to meet his Israeli counterpart, Yariv Levin, on Tuesday.

He is also expected to hold talks with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.