Middle East

Israeli lawmakers to vote to weaken Supreme Court amid protests, as Netanyahu leaves hospital

By Richard Allen Greene, Amir Tal, Hadas Gold and Ivana Kottasová, CNN

Jerusalem CNN  —  After six months of street protests, parliamentary maneuvering, compromise talks and increasingly urgent pleas from the White House, Israeli lawmakers are set to vote on the first part of the government’s sweeping plan to weaken the power of the country’s courts on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who left hospital on Monday morning after having been fitted with a pacemaker, has been pressing on with his plans for the judicial system overhaul even as protests against them show no signs on easing.

He and his allies call the measures “reforms” and say they are required to rebalance powers between the courts, lawmakers and the government. Opponents of the plan call it a “coup” and say it threatens to turn Israel into a dictatorship by removing the most significant checks on government actions.

Netanyahu was forced to pause the legislative process earlier this year in the face of widespread protests and international pressure.

The demonstrations continued on Monday. Huge crowds of people waving flags took over the area around the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, despite the sweltering heat. The protesters were met with police water cannons, fences and barbed wire as they attempted to block access to the building.

The Knesset begun discussing the first part of the reform on Sunday, with so many lawmakers requesting time to speak that the discussion was scheduled to last 26 hours.

Deep divisions

Monday’s vote is on the so-called reasonableness bill, which would strip the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable. It could be voted into law in on Monday evening.

Other elements of the judicial overhaul would give the far-right coalition government more control of the appointment of judges, and would remove independent legal advisers from government ministries. Those bills have not advanced as far in the legislative process at the reasonableness bill.

The Israel Bar Association is already preparing a legal challenge to the bill, the lawyers’ group said Sunday.

Its executive, the Bar Council, is holding an emergency meeting to approve the decision to petition the Supreme Court to cancel the reasonableness law if it passes on Monday, the Bar said.

The Bar is also warning it will shut down “as an act of protest against the anti-democratic legislative process,” the statement said. That means the Bar Association would not provide professional services to its members, not that lawyers would go on strike.

The judicial overhaul plan has also prompted threats from military reservists as more than 1,000 Israel Air Force reserve officers vowed to stop volunteering if the judicial overhaul bill passes.

The chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces warned the reservists against taking that step. “No service members have the right to say that they will no longer serve,” he said in an open letter to the military on Sunday.

“I call on all reservists, even in these complex days, to separate civil protests from reporting for duty to the security services. The calls to not report for duty harm the IDF and its readiness,” Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel’s top military officer, said in the letter.

Opponents of the overhaul have been demonstrating against the plan since it was announced in January – on 29 consecutive Saturday nights and with other planned or spontaneous demonstrations on weekdays.

Thousands of Israelis opposing the judicial overhaul marched into Jerusalem Saturday night, completing a five-day walk from Tel Aviv.

TOne protester, Yair Amon, told CNN during a march on Saturday that the demonstrations would not stop even if the Knesset passes the first part of the legislation. “We’re not going to let them destroy our democracy. Benjamin Netanyahu is a criminal and we have to get rid of him,” he said.

Netanyahu’s health issues

The final vote comes with Netanyahu facing health issues.

The Israeli leader was first admitted to hospital last Saturday. His office said at the time that he had experienced dizziness, while Israeli media reported that he fainted. He was released the following day after doctors at the Sheba Medical Center fitted him with a heart monitor.

Netanyahu was hospitalized again over the weekend and was fitted with a pacemaker early Sunday morning, according to a statement from his office. The procedure happened at Tel Hashomer Hospital and the Prime Minister was sedated during the surgery.

Roy Beinart, director of the Davidai Center for Rhythm Disturbances and Pacing at Sheba Medical Center, said Netanyahu had the heart monitor implanted because of a known conduction disorder – another name for a heart block.

Beinart said doctors had known about the condition “for many years.”

Netanyahu was hospitalized again over the weekend and was fitted with a pacemaker early Sunday morning, according to a statement from his office.

Netanyahu released a short video statement later Sunday, saying he was “doing great” after the operation. “I would like to thank the many of you who have asked how I am doing. I am doing great. Tomorrow morning I will join my colleagues in the Knesset,” Netanyahu said in the 25-second video. He was released on Monday and was headed to the Knesset for the vote.

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