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Netanyahu in hospital as Israeli judicial crisis flares

July 23, 2023 at 1:38 pm

People, carrying flags, various banners and placards, gather in Kaplan Street to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reform in Tel Aviv, Israel on July 08, 2023. [Mostafa Alkharouf – Anadolu Agency]

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in hospital after being fitted with a pacemaker on Sunday, as tens of thousands of people converged on Jerusalem to protest a planned overhaul of the Supreme Court being debated in parliament, Reuters reports.

With Israel embroiled in its most serious domestic political crisis in decades, the 73-year-old leader was rushed to Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv on Saturday after a heart monitor implanted a week earlier in what was described as a dehydration episode detected a “temporary arrhythmia”, his doctors said.

The pacemaker procedure went smoothly and Netanyahu was expected to be discharged later on Sunday, his office said, however Israeli media reported he may stay an extra night in the hospital. A medical source familiar with the case said doctors were recommending Netanyahu stay another night.

The prime minister’s office, which said planned trips to Cyprus and Turkey had been postponed, said it would provide an update if there were new details.

Netanyahu had been expected to vote in parliament on Monday on a key element of his highly contested judicial overhaul, which has ignited months of nationwide protests and concern abroad over Israel’s democratic health.

READ: Thousands of Israelis protest against government’s judicial overhaul

Netanyahu and the judicial reform overhaul - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Netanyahu and the judicial reform overhaul – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/Middle East Monitor]

Lawmakers on Sunday began debating the bill, which would limit the court’s ability to void decisions made by the government and ministers it deems “unreasonable”. The result of Monday’s vote could come as soon as that evening.

As the debate in parliament went on, tens of thousands of Israelis opposing the judicial changes lined city streets in Jerusalem carrying flags and beating drums under a scorching summer sun. Many pitched tents in a park near the Knesset.

“We’re worried, we’re scared, we’re angry. We’re angry that people are trying to change this country, trying to create a democratic backslide. But we’re also very, very hopeful,” Tzivia Guggenheim, 24, a student in Jerusalem, said outside her tent.

Netanyahu’s coalition with a clutch of nationalist and religious parties has been determined to push ahead with plans that would curb the Supreme Court’s power to overrule government actions on legal grounds, arguing that the court has become too politically interventionist.

Critics say the amendment is being rushed through parliament and will open the door to abuses of power by removing one of the few effective checks on the executive’s authority in a country without a formal written constitution.

Supporters say opponents of the bill want to override the will of the majority that voted Netanyahu’s government into power last year, and the battle has opened up deep divisions in Israeli society.