‘Israel will stay a vibrant democracy’, says UK ambassador ahead of protest

Tzipi Hotovely's comments come as protestors around the world, including in London, plan to demonstrate outside Israeli embassies this Saturday


Israel’s Ambassador to the UK Tzipi Hotovely has called for calm ahead of Saturday’s “Saving Israeli Democracy” protest outside the London embassy, saying that the Jewish state will “forever be a vibrant democracy.”

Speaking to the JC on Tuesday ahead of the planned demonstration this weekend, Ambassador Hotovely said that she doesn’t “believe that you can be Jewish without being democratic”, and added that protests are “a healthy thing”.

The protest outside the Israeli embassy is being organised by Israelis in the UK, coordinated with others around the world.

A post in Hebrew on Facebook describing the demonstration asserts that “Israel is currently under attack on the basis of its existence – its democracy.”

It adds: “Israelis around the world… will make our voices heard in the struggle for the preservation of democracy and to stop the police coup. Now is the time to wake up and yell: this country is in our soul. What happens in it today will determine who it will be and who we are, and our children will be.”

Speaking to the JC on Tuesday, Ambassador Hotovely said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposed reform of Israel’s Supreme Court, which have triggered protests across Israel, are “not about changing the nature of Israel’s democracy.”

The ambassador said that while she encouraged demonstrations as “a healthy thing” in a democratic society so long as “violence isn’t used to express criticism”, those who were concerned about the future of the country needn’t be.

In a message to Saturday’s demonstrators, she said: “I think you should definitely calm down, everyone who’s worried.

“Democracy is something so basic to our Jewish identity. I don’t believe you can be Jewish without being democratic.

“[These reforms] are not about changing the nature of Israel’s democracy. Israel is a vibrant democracy, and it will stay like this forever, because we love well-intentioned fighting and debating too much.

“I do believe, speaking on behalf of the people who are happy with the reforms, they felt the balance part of checks and balances was unbalanced for many years.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government plans to drastically change the role of Israel’s Supreme Court in a way that would curb the judiciary’s influence over law-making and public policy and remove its ability to strike down legislation passed in the Knesset.

Criticisms of the proposed reform range from claiming it would undermine the democratic system of checks and balances in the country, to accusing Netanyahu’s government of attempting to seize absolute power through regime change.

Another bill opposed by protesters, that has been in the works since Netanyahu’s previous administration, would seek to limit citizens’ rights to hold protests by requiring police approval for any protest of over 100 people. National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has said that no such law would pass so long as he is in office.

In defence of the government’s proposed judicial reforms, the ambassador said: “Israel’s Supreme Court was for years defending minorities, defending human rights, and creating precedents for helping to advance human rights. We are so proud of our Supreme Court, but we need to understand that in a way this is not the only branch of our democracy. We need to balance between peoples’ rights to have laws that wouldn’t be overruled time after time.”

“The most important message, this is to your readers, is to say very clearly: Israel is a democracy, and we will never give up our democratic identity.”

The proposed reforms by the Netanyahu government have triggered a wave of protests across Israel, with 80,000 people flooding Tel Aviv in a demonstration of the scale of opposition.

The protests have now spread globally, with many planned for tomorrow around the world. In London, demonstrators are being encouraged to bring their friends, families and children on Saturday, also asks participants to “be colourful” and to bring “signs and flags, musical instruments”.

Over 120 people are currently registered as attending, with nearly 200 interested.

Ambassador Hotovely’s remarks echoed comments made by former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who said in front of a New York audience earlier this week that reports of the death of Israeli democracy are exaggerated, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

In reference to rumoured anti-LGBT proposals made by Israeli cabinet members Bezalel Smotrich and Avi Maoz, Mr Bennett said on Monday: “There are a lot of foolish words flying out in the air… but there’s a core of responsibility [in the government] that will fend off the most radical of the suggestions, but to be fair, I don’t know.

“No one’s going to touch the LGBT community in Israel. No one’s going to mess around with it. Israel is robust.”

Mr Bennett also criticised Israel’s Supreme Court, which he claimed, “gradually usurped authority it didn’t have.”

To those concerned about Israel, Mr Bennett told members of the audience at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan: “I recommend you enter a dialogue with the government… Speak up and talk with the government. Israelis sometimes think the world revolves around Israel and don’t always see the broader view of Jews around the world and the world itself.

“I think sharing with the Israeli leadership, what’s going on and what it means and what the implications are, is meaningful. There are ministers who have never been abroad, so you are what you experience.” 

READ MORE: Thousands take to the streets of rain-soaked Tel Aviv to protest against government

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