Netanyahu in hospital as Israeli judicial crisis flares

JERUSALEM, July 23 (Reuters) – 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.

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, adding that trips planned to Cyrus and Turkey would be rescheduled.

That should give him enough time to take part in the final 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.

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.

Lawmakers on Sunday began debating a bill to 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.

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.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Monday, July 17, 2023. Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The crisis has spread to the military, with hundreds of volunteer army reservists threatening not to show up for service if the government continues with the plans, and former military and security chiefs warning that national security was at risk.

Tens of thousands of Israelis opposing the judicial changes marched to Jerusalem over the weekend, 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 and a student in Jerusalem, said outside her tent.

Across town in the Old City, hundreds of protesters gathered near the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest prayer site, singing and dancing in circles.

The furore over the judiciary has contributed to strains in relations with the U.S., as have surging Israeli-Palestinian violence and progress in Iran’s nuclear programme.

Washington has urged Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges he denies, to seek broad agreements over any judicial reforms.

First elected to Israel’s top office in 1996, Netanyahu has been both dynamic and polarising.

He spearheaded a free-market revolution in Israel, while showing distrust of internationally backed peacemaking with the Palestinians and world powers’ negotiations to cap Iran’s nuclear programme.

In early October, a few weeks before winning a national election, Netanyahu fell ill during the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur and was briefly hospitalised.

Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Ari Rabinovitch, Amir Cohen, Dedi Hayoun, Rami Amichay and Ilan Rosenberg; Editing by Paul Simao, Richard Chang and Jan Harvey

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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