close
Friday February 23, 2024

Israel's Netanyahu meeting with UK PM spark protests in London

Demonstrators critical of Israeli PM shouted "shame" in Hebrew as he greeted his British counterpart

By AFP
March 24, 2023
Protesters wearing facemasks of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a placard outside gates of Downing Street in central London on March 23, 2023. — AFP
Protesters wearing facemasks of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hold a placard outside gates of Downing Street in central London on March 23, 2023. — AFP

LONDON: Hundreds of protesters rallied Friday outside Downing Street in central London to heckle the arrival of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a meeting with his British counterpart Rishi Sunak.

Netanyahu has faced weeks of escalating protests in Israel over his government’s judicial reform programme, which would increase politicians' power over the courts and critics argue is a threat to democracy.

Demonstrators in the UK capital, many holding Israeli flags and placards critical of the country's veteran leader, shouted "shame" in Hebrew as he greeted Sunak at the door of 10 Downing Street.

They erected the letters of the word "democracy" on Whitehall opposite the entrance to the gated street, while wielding signs accusing Netanyahu of dragging Israel towards "dictatorship".

"It's important to be here because maybe at some point they won't have the right to protest in Israel," Dana Drori, a mother-of-two in her 30s, told AFP at the protest, alongside her young daughters.

"It's anger, it's sadness," she said of her emotions. "It´s just hard to believe it's becoming a dictatorship."

In a televised address hours before departing for London, Netanyahu pledged to restore unity within his increasingly fractured country, but gave little away about how he would do that while still pursuing the reforms.

'Strategic ties'

Some of Israel's allies abroad, including the leaders in the United States and Germany, have raised concerns about the controversial overhaul.

However, Sunak and his ministers have not commented on it.

The UK government released few details about the two-day visit, but Netanyahu's office said in a statement his meeting with the British leader will "focus on the Iranian issue".

The pair will discuss "the need to formulate a united international front against Iran in order to stop its nuclear program", it added.

They are also expected to talk about strengthening bilateral "strategic ties" as well as issues including the war in Ukraine and developments in the Middle East, the statement noted.

Netanyahu is also set to meet hardline interior minister Suella Braverman — who has herself faced stinging criticism over contentious UK plans to deter asylum-seekers — to discuss countering global terrorism.

Further protests by pro-Palestinian groups are expected in central London later Friday, with some Palestinians attending the morning rally.

"As Palestinians from the diaspora we see ourselves at the front line of the fight for a free Palestine and when Netanyahu comes to visit in our backyard we have to protest it," said one 24-year-old protester, who gave her name only as Yasmine.