Democracy means judicial autonomy, German envoy says on Israel overhaul
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Germany believes an independent justice system is a tenet of democracy and is closely watching the Israeli dispute over a government plan for judicial change, its envoy said, as protesters flooded the streets for an eighth straight week on Saturday.
The new nationalist-religious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ploughed ahead this week with its proposed changes as parliament took first steps in legislating limits to the Supreme Court's power to strike down laws.
Another change pushed by the ruling coalition would give it more sway in picking judges. The bills have won initial votes in parliament but have yet to be written into law.
"We have a strong interest in Israeli democracy remaining strong because ... this vibrant democracy is an important part of why we feel so committed to Israel," German Ambassador Steffen Seibert told Israel's N12 television in an interview.
The government's plan has sparked nationwide protests in Israel and caused alarm among economists, former security officials and legal experts at home and abroad.
Critics say it undermines the courts' independence while handing the government unbridled power, which in turn would endanger minority rights, encourage corruption, isolate Israel diplomatically and wreak havoc on its economy.
Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges that he denies, says the reforms will strengthen democracy and boost business. He has dismissed protesters as "anarchists" unwilling to accept the decisive right-wing victory in a Nov. 1 election.
"Democracy is more than the temporary power of the democratically elected majority," Seibert said.
"It is also about the preservation of the rights of minorities, and it is also about the proper balance of power and that's where an independent judiciary comes in," said Seibert, adding that Germany was closely watching the fierce debate.
Numerous opinion polls have shown a majority of Israelis against the government's planned judicial overhaul as it presently stands. Nationwide protests drew tens of thousands on Saturday.
"We are demonstrating against the government because we are afraid for our future, for the future of our children," said Gabi Goldstein, who attended the largest protest on Saturday, in Tel Aviv.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Rami Amichay in Tel Aviv; Editing by Frances Kerry)