German foreign minister concerned about judicial independence in Israel

BERLIN, Feb 28 (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock on Tuesday expressed concern about judicial independence in Israel as well as plans by the Israeli government to allow the death penalty.

"I will not deny that we abroad are concerned about some of the legislative plans in Israel," Baerbock said at a news conference with her Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Berlin.

"Among the values that unite us is the protection of constitutional principles such as the independence of the judiciary," she said. "That was always Israel's hallmark."

The new nationalist-religious government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ploughed ahead this month 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. Some of the bills have won initial votes in parliament but have yet to be written into law.

Germany's ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, said earlier this week that Germany was closely watching the dispute over the plans for judicial change.

"At the end of the day, our judicial reform will strengthen democracy," said Cohen, underscoring Israel's openness to free speech and welcoming recent protests.

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.

Reporting by Paul Carrel and Miranda Murray, Editing by Friederike Heine and Toby Chopra

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