Ehud Olmert, who served as premier from 2006-2009, says he is aware his call "is quite extraordinary" but the situation calls for it, adding "I think the present government of Israel is simply anti-Israeli."

Ehud Olmert [R] was once one of Benjamin Netanyahu's fiercest rivals in hard-line Likud Party.
Ehud Olmert [R] was once one of Benjamin Netanyahu's fiercest rivals in hard-line Likud Party. (AP Archive)

Israel's former prime minister Ehud Olmert has urged world leaders to shun Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as he presses ahead with a plan to overhaul the country's justice system. The United States and Germany, two of Israel's closest allies, called on Netanyahu to slow down.

The rare calls for restraint and international intervention on Thursday came as thousands of Israelis once again took to the streets to protest Netanyahu's plan.

Ehud Olmert, who served as prime minister from 2006-2009, told The Associated Press that global leaders should refuse to meet with Netanyahu. He appealed specifically to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who is expected to host Netanyahu in the coming weeks.

"I urge the leaders of the friendly countries to the state of Israel to refrain from meeting with the Israeli prime minister," Olmert said.

He added that he was aware his call, as a former Israeli prime minister, "is quite extraordinary" but that the situation calls for it. "I think that the present government of Israel is simply anti-Israeli," Olmert said.

He took aim at Netanyahu's far-right coalition, an alliance of ultra-Orthodox and ultranationalist parties that oppose ending occupation of Palestinian territories and support increased illegal settlement construction there.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the current minister for national security was convicted in the past of incitement to racism and supporting a terror group. Netanyahu's Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich recently called for a Palestinian village in the occupied West Bank to be "erased," though he later apologised.

"Those who are in favour of the state of Israel should be against the prime minister of the state of Israel," Olmert said.

A spokesperson for Netanyahu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

READ MORE: Israelis stage 'day of resistance' as Netanyahu rejects compromise plan

Controversial plan 

Netanyahu and his allies are now barreling ahead with a plan that aims to weaken Israel's Supreme Court and give his parliamentary coalition control over the appointment of judges.

Netanyahu says the plan will correct an imbalance that he says has given the courts too much sway in how Israel is governed. Critics say the overhaul will upend the country's system of checks and balances and would give the prime minister too much power. 

They also say Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, could escape justice once the court system is revamped.

The overhaul has plunged Israel into one of its worst domestic crises. 

Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets over the past two and a half months, and the plan has sparked an uproar from top legal officials, business leaders who say it will damage the economy, and from within the country’s military — the most trusted institution among Israel's Jewish majority. 

Reservists have pledged not to serve under what they see as a shift toward autocracy.

Olmert was once one of Netanyahu's fiercest rivals in the hard-line Likud Party. But over time, Olmert veered far to the left. As prime minister, he held months of intense peace talks with Palestine's leadership before he was forced to resign to face his own legal troubles.

Olmert later spent 16 months in prison after being convicted of accepting bribes and obstructing justice for acts committed years before he was prime minister.

Olmert announced his resignation in 2008, long before he was indicted. At the time, Netanyahu, then in the opposition, led the calls for him to step down, saying he was unfit to rule while facing a criminal probe.

Asked about Netanyahu's refusal to step down in similar circumstances, Olmert said he had different values than his old rival. He said that at a certain point, he realised the country's interests were more important than his personal interests.

"The state of Israel comes first," he said. "I retired a year before I was indicted because I felt that it is not right."

READ MORE: Israeli troops kill four Palestinians in Jenin raid

Source: AP