Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin speaks to the media on March 16, 2023 in Berlin, Germany.
Sean Gallup | Getty Images News | fake images
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was doing “excellent” after an unscheduled pacemaker implant and would attend a key court reform vote on Monday that has sparked nationwide protests and calls for compromise.
With the country caught in its worst internal crisis in decades, President Isaac Herzog met Netanyahu in hospital on Sunday for treatment in the hope of bridging the gap between the religious nationalist ruling coalition and opposition parties.
“This is an emergency. An agreement must be reached,” Herzog, who mediated the fruitless March-June talks, said in a statement.
The Knesset, where Netanyahu has a comfortable majority, is due to hold final readings on Monday of a bill limiting the Supreme Court’s powers to overturn some government decisions.
It would be the first reform written into law of a package that critics fear is aimed at curbing judicial independence, but that Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, insists is necessary for balance between branches of government.
The embattled 73-year-old leader was rushed to a hospital near Tel Aviv on Saturday night after a heart monitor implanted a week earlier in what was described as a bout of dehydration detected a “temporary arrhythmia”, his doctors said.
Equipped with a pacemaker, he was due to be discharged Monday.
“As you can see, I’m doing great,” he said in a video statement that showed him seated, smiling and wearing a blazer.
“We are making efforts to complete the legislation, as well as efforts to do it through consensus, but in any case, I want you to know that tomorrow morning I will be meeting with my colleagues in the Knesset.”
Lawmakers began debating the bill on Sunday, which would amend a law that allows the Supreme Court to overturn decisions made by the government and ministers it deems “unreasonable.”
The poll results broadcast by the Kan national broadcaster found that 46% of Israelis opposed the amendment versus 35% who were in favor and 19% who were undecided.
The Histadrut labor federation proposed a reduced version of the bill. Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid said that could be the basis for further compromise talks, but Netanyahu’s Likud party said he was too close to Lapid’s positions.
Tens of thousands of Israelis calling for the removal of the proposed judicial reform lined the streets of the city of Jerusalem waving flags and beating drums under a blazing summer sun. Many pitched tents in a park near the Knesset.
“We’re worried, we’re afraid, we’re angry. We’re angry that people are trying to change this country, trying to create democratic backsliding. But we’re also very, very hopeful,” said Tzivia Guggenheim, a 24-year-old student.
Meanwhile, counter-protesters rallied in Tel Aviv, where another 24-year-old student, Aviya Cohen, said she had come to send a message to the government she had voted for.
“I am 100% in favor of judicial reforms. I think my country needs it. I think we have an absolute need to move on,” he said.
Netanyahu’s coalition is determined to reject what it describes as overreach by a Supreme Court that it says has become too politically interventionist.
Critics say Monday’s amendment was rushed through parliament and will open the door to abuses of power by removing one of the few effective checks on executive authority in a country without a formal written constitution.
The crisis has spread to the army. Protest leaders say thousands of volunteer reservists will not report for duty if the government goes ahead with plans and top brass warn Israel’s readiness for war could be at risk.
Netanyahu has portrayed the threat of insubordination in the ranks as an attempt to undermine Israel’s elected government.
The military chief, Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, wrote in an open letter that “dangerous cracks” form when politics affects the military.
“If we don’t have a strong and united defense force, if Israel’s best doesn’t work… we will no longer be able to exist as a country in the region,” Halevi wrote.
The furor has contributed to tensions in relations with the United States, as has escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians and progress on Iran’s nuclear program. Washington has urged Netanyahu to seek a broad consensus on any judicial reform.
Netanyahu’s health problems prompted his office to postpone planned trips to Cyprus and Turkey, without immediately providing new dates.