Israel judicial reform: Netanyahu in hospital ahead of key voteon July 23, 2023 at 4:15 pm

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Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu had surgery to fit a pacemaker, days before a crucial vote on legal reforms.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 5 July.Image source, Reuters

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has had emergency surgery to fit a pacemaker, after being taken to hospital on Saturday night.

Doctors at Sheba Medical Centre said the procedure went well and he is not in a life-threatening condition.

Mr Netanyahu’s hospitalisation comes ahead of a key vote in parliament on a contentious overhaul of the judiciary.

Protests against the reform have swept Israel, with many workers vowing to strike if the bill goes ahead.

In a video address ahead of the overnight surgery, Mr Netanyahu said he was feeling “excellent” but listening to his doctors.

There had been growing questions over his health after he was admitted to hospital last week supposedly suffering from dehydration.

The operation went smoothly “without any complications,” Prof Roy Beinart from the Sheba Medical Center said, adding that Mr Netanyahu was “not in a life-threatening condition”.

His office said Mr Netanyahu would be discharged on Monday, but trips planned to Cyprus and Turkey would be rescheduled.

Mr Netanyahu said he should be well enough to attend parliament after the procedure. The next 48 hours are expected to see a critical vote on his government’s plans for changes to the judiciary. There have been months of protests in Israel over the reforms, which seek to limit the Supreme Court’s powers.

The vote – expected to take place on Monday – will amount to a showdown between the hard-line religious-nationalist coalition and swathes of Israeli society. Parliament began debating the highly contested bill on Sunday.

One by one, Israeli opposition MPs are taking to the floor of the parliament chamber, pleading with the government to ditch its judicial reform plans.

The last few days have seen tens of thousands of protesters march from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to oppose the justice system changes, with people filling the main highway.

Many protesters camped up at Sacher Park in Jerusalem, near the parliament, after the four-day protest march.

Anti-government protesters stand among tents after spending the night in a tent camp at Sacher Park, near the Israeli Knesset, following a four-day protest march to Jerusalem against the government's planned justice system reform, in Jerusalem, 23 July 2023.

Image source, ABIR SULTAN/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Demonstrations near the parliament are expected, and the coalition also faces the threat of a mass boycott of service duty by thousands of military reservists, including hundreds of air force pilots, if the law passes.

Three former army chiefs of staff and dozens of senior Israeli security officials signed a letter on Saturday criticising the government’s judicial reform plans and supporting reservists.

“This legislation is destroying the common foundations of Israeli society, ripping the people apart, dismantling the army and inflicting fatal harm to Israel’s security,” the letter reads.

Brothers in Arms, which represents 10,000 reservists, have voiced their frustration at the government’s plans.

“We’ve tried everything, this is where we draw the line,” Eyal Nave, one of the leaders of Brothers in Arms, said.

“We pledged to serve the kingdom and not the king,” Mr Nave said. Appealing directly to Mr Netanyahu, he said: “You and only you are responsible for what is happening here. We had faith in the government but the government broke us.

“I will not volunteer to serve in a dictatorial state,” Mr Nave added.

A boycott by such a large number would seriously impact the operational capability of the Israeli military and so this is being seen as one of the most pivotal moments in the anti-government protest movement so far.

Israel’s Supreme Court is the only source of scrutiny on the government’s use of its power.

Mr Netanyahu’s critics worry the reform will severely undermine Israel’s democracy by weakening the judicial system.

Supporters of the reforms argue that the Supreme Court has become increasingly “activist” over the decades, hindering the policies of democratically elected governments. They accuse judges of making politically-based decisions.

But many worry the prime minister – who currently faces corruption charges, which he denies – is trying to use the judicial reform to thwart his own legal issues.

Mr Netanyahu vehemently denies such accusations.

Merav Michaeli, a former government minister who chairs Israel’s Labour party, said “a tiny majority” of politicians was “coming to really ruin the state of Israel”.

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