Sunak Netanyahu meeting: Prime Minister meet Israeli leader at Downing Street - why were there protests?

Rishi Sunak welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 amid protests aginst his domestic policy. (Credit: Getty Images)Rishi Sunak welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 amid protests aginst his domestic policy. (Credit: Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 amid protests aginst his domestic policy. (Credit: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images
Netanyahu has faced protests at home and now abroad over controversial changes to his country's judicial system

Against a backdrop of anger over changes to Israel's judicial system, Rishi Sunak has welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Downing Street.

The pair met during a state visit by Netanyahu to discuss security and threats from Iran. However, protests against the Israeli leader overshadowed talks between the two.

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Tensions have remained high domestically for Netanyahu, who faces opposition against controversial changes to the country's legal system. Protests spilled over to the UK and greeted him as he landed in London to meet with both Sunak and the Home Secretary Suella Braverman.

Despite only being reinstated as the country's PM in November - amid a trial for corruption - the Israeli public have already voiced their concerns over some of his planned changes. Critics of the reforms say that Netanyahu's new plans could dampen not only the country's social structure but also harm the security of Israel.

But what changes are being proposed - and what happened during his meeting with Sunak? Here's everything you need to know.

Why are people protesting against Benjamin Netanyahu?

The judicial overhaul would essentially see Israeli courts stripped of the power to declare a sitting Prime Minister as unfit for office. It comes as the Prime Minister himself faces a trial for corruption, a charge he denies.

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Widespread protests and demonstrations have been taking place in Israel over the matter. Tens of thousands of people are taken to the streets of Tel Aviv and other major Israeli cities, with police using water cannons and mounted officers to disperse crowds.

Rishi Sunak welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 amid protests aginst his domestic policy. (Credit: Getty Images)Rishi Sunak welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 amid protests aginst his domestic policy. (Credit: Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Number 10 amid protests aginst his domestic policy. (Credit: Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The overhaul was voted through on Thursday (23 March) despite the outrage. Netanyahu, who said that critics were disrespecting the choice of voters, said that he would "do everything to calm the situation and bring cohesion", adding: "We cannot allow any dispute to endanger our collective future."

Former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yair Lapid said that the move would turn Israel into an "undemocratic country". He said: "This would be a direct violation of Israel's security and a lack of national responsibility of the first order."

While residents have been protesting in the streets, reservists in the Israeli Defence League (IDF) have also threatened to strike in protest. Critics have said that this move by reservists could weaken the army's defensive capabilities.

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As Netanyahu arrived to meet with Sunak 24 hours after the overhaul was voted through the Israeli parliament, he was met with chants of "traitor" and "shame". Protesters outside Downing Street also held up placards calling the PM out for the judicial changes.

Protesters gathered outside Downing Street to demonstrate against Netenyahu's visit. (Credit: Getty Images) Protesters gathered outside Downing Street to demonstrate against Netenyahu's visit. (Credit: Getty Images)
Protesters gathered outside Downing Street to demonstrate against Netenyahu's visit. (Credit: Getty Images) | Getty Images

What happened during Sunak and Netanyahu's meeting?

As a result of the tension outside Downing Street, a scheduled photo opportunity for the media was cancelled. A joint statement made by both Sunak and Netanyahu was also cancelled.

However, the unpopular domestic policy does not seem to have dampened UK-Israel relations. A statement from Downing Street said that the British Prime Minister "stressed the importance of upholding the democratic values that underpin our relationship, including in the proposed judicial reforms in Israel".

Other topics on the table for discussion were the war in Ukraine, and Iran. The statement also placed emphasis on deepening the trade and security relationship between the UK and Israel.

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A Number 10 spokesman said: “Israel is a vital international partner for the United Kingdom and the prime minister was visiting London, and this was an important opportunity to talk about issues that matter to both countries, whether that’s the threat of Iran, Russia, new trade and investment … as well as peace and stability in the Middle East.”

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