Fitted with his new pacemaker, Netanyahu to attend Israel vote

July 24, 2023 by AAP
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he is “doing excellently” after an unscheduled pacemaker implant and planned to be in parliament for a judicial reform vote that has brought country-wide protests to a boil and stirred calls for compromise.

Right-wing Israelis rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government plans to overhaul the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday, July 23, 2023. The demonstration came a day before parliament is expected to vote on a key part of the plan. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

With the country ensnared in its worst domestic political crisis in decades, President Isaac Herzog on Sunday met Netanyahu in the hospital treating him in hope of closing the rifts between the religious-nationalist ruling coalition and opposition parties.

“This is an emergency. Agreement must be reached,” Herzog, who mediated fruitless March-June talks, said in a statement.

The Knesset, where Netanyahu wields a comfortable majority, is due on Monday to hold a ratification vote on a bill limiting Supreme Court powers to overrule some government decisions.

It would be the first reform written into law of a package critics fear aims to curb judicial independence but which Netanyahu – who is on trial on corruption charges he denies – insists are needed for balance among branches of government.

The embattled 73-year-old leader was rushed to a hospital near Tel Aviv late 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.

Fitted with a pacemaker, he was due for discharge on Monday.

“As you can see, I am doing excellently,” he said in a video statement that showed him seated, smiling and wearing a blazer.

“We are pursuing efforts to complete the legislation, as well as efforts to do this through consensus, but in any event, I want you to know that tomorrow morning I’ll be joining my colleagues in the Knesset.”

Lawmakers on Sunday began debating the bill, which would amend a law enabling the Supreme Court to void decisions made by the government and ministers it deems “unreasonable”.

Poll results aired by broadcaster Kan indicated 46 per cent of Israelis were opposed to the amendment versus 35  per cent who were in favour and 19 per cent who were undecided.

The result of Monday’s vote could come as soon as that evening.

The Histadrut labour federation proposed a scaled-down version of the bill.

Centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid said that could be a basis for new compromise talks, but Netanyahu’s Likud party said it was too close to Lapid’s positions.

Tens of thousands of Israelis opposing the proposed judicial overhaul 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,” said Tzivia Guggenheim, a 24-year-old student.

Counter-protesters, meanwhile, massed 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 per cent in favour of the judicial reforms. I think my country needs it. I think we absolutely need to go through with it,” she said.

Netanyahu’s coalition has been determined to push back against what it describes as an overreach by a Supreme Court that it says has become too politically interventionist.

Critics say Monday’s amendment has been 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.

The crisis has spread to the military, with protest leaders saying thousands of volunteer reservists would not report for duty if the government continues with the plans and former top brass warning that Israel’s war-readiness could be at risk.

Netanyahu has cast the threat of insubordination in the ranks as an attempt to undermine Israel’s elected government.

The military chief, Lieutenant-General Herzi Halevi, wrote in an open letter that “dangerous cracks” are formed when politics affects the military.


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