By Brooke Mallory
1:56 PM – Sunday, July 23, 2023
On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reported to be resting in a hospital following an emergency heart treatment, as tens of thousands of supporters and opponents of his government’s judicial reform proposal conducted protests ahead of a pivotal vote.
Netanyahu’s unexpected hospitalization and pacemaker implantation adds another twist to an already dramatic set of events that have split the country’s citizens. The first key piece of legislation under the disputed proposal is anticipated to be approved in parliament on Monday.
The prime minister’s physicians say the operation went very well on Sunday. Although, Netanyahu still remained at Sheba Hospital outside Tel Aviv on Sunday evening so that he could rest.
In a brief video statement from the hospital, 73-year-old Netanyahu said he was feeling fine and thanked both his physicians and the public for their compassion.
Netanyahu also stated that he was negotiating a compromise with his opponents while simultaneously preparing for a vote on Monday to enshrine a major piece of legislation into law.
“I want you to know that tomorrow morning I’m joining my colleagues at the Knesset,” he said.
The revamp asks for broad changes intended to restrict the judiciary’s authority, ranging from limiting the Supreme Court’s capacity to challenge parliamentary decisions, to modifying the way justices are chosen.
Netanyahu and his supporters argue that the measures are necessary to limit the authority of unelected judges. However, the prime minister’s opponents and critics maintain that the proposal will destabilize the country’s fragile system of checks and balances and push Israel toward authoritarianism.
A growing number of military reservists in crucial units have also declared that they will not report for duty if the plan is implemented, increasing concerns regarding Israel’s security.
President Joe Biden had urged Netanyahu to halt the proposal, and Israel’s ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, has sought to mediate a deal between Netanyahu and his opponents. Herzog, who returned from a visit to the White House on Sunday, reportedly visited Netanyahu in his hospital room.
“This is a time of emergency,” Herzog said. “We have to reach an agreement.”
Herzog said he had intended to meet with Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, and Benny Gantz, the leader of another opposition party, National Unity, later on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of people gathered for major protests in both support and opposition to the change.
Netanyahu’s followers flocked to downtown Tel Aviv, which is generally the scene of anti-government demonstrations, while his opponents marched on Israel’s Knesset and parliament.
After completing a four-day march into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv on Saturday, many of the demonstrators camped out in tents in a neighboring park.
Tensions have been rising after seven months of widespread protests against the proposal, as legislators began a lengthy discussion over the first major item of the change ahead of Monday’s vote.
Simcha Rothman, a primary mover of the overhaul, lambasted the courts in a heated address starting the session, claiming they harmed Israel’s democratic values by unjustly overturning government decisions.
“This small clause is meant to restore democracy to the state of Israel,” Rothman said. “I call on Knesset members to approve the bill.”
Netanyahu’s weekly Cabinet meeting, which was set for Sunday morning, has been rescheduled.
Additionally, his office also said that the prime minister’s future travel plans to Cyprus and Turkey would be delayed as well.
According to Israeli media, last-ditch efforts to break the standoff were underway. However, it was unclear if they would “bear fruit.”
Legislators will vote on Monday on the bill that would prohibit judges from overturning government decisions on the basis that they are “unreasonable.”
Proponents argue that the present “reasonability” test gives courts disproportionate control over elected officials’ decision-making. Critics argue that abolishing it will allow the government to make arbitrary judgments, make inappropriate appointments or firings, and allow corruption to flourish.
Yair Lapid, the opposition leader in parliament, called on Netanyahu to begin compromise discussions and praised the protestors for standing up to the administration.
“The government of Israel launched a war of attrition against the citizens of Israel and discovered the people can’t be broken. We won’t give up on our children’s future,” Lapid asserted.
A week earlier, Netanyahu had been brought to the hospital in the middle of the night for what doctors believed at the time was dehydration.
The unexpected hospitalization for the pacemaker treatment suggested that his health problems were more serious than he had previously indicated.
After last week’s health emergency, his physicians stated in a video message that they had inserted a gadget to monitor his heart. When the gadget revealed irregularities, physicians determined that he would need a pacemaker.
Netanyahu has had a “conduction disorder,” or irregular heartbeat, for years, according to Professor Roy Beinart, senior physician and head of the Davidai Arrhythmia Center at Sheba Medical Center’s Heart Institute.
“The implantation went smoothly, without any complications. He is not in a life-threatening condition,” Beinart said. “He feels great and is returning to his daily routine.”
Netanyahu and his allies unveiled the restructuring proposal back in January.
After tremendous pressure from demonstrators and labor protests that delayed outbound flights and shut down sectors of the economy, Netanyahu postponed the overhaul in March. Following the failure of compromise discussions last month, he later stated that his administration would proceed with the judicial change.