Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was “doing excellently” after an overnight hospitalization and vowed to be in parliament on Monday to vote for a disputed judicial reform that triggered a fresh round of mass protests on Sunday.
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.
Thanking well-wishers and the team that treated him in hospital, Netanyahu said in a video statement: “As you can see, I am doing excellently.”
Smiling and wearing a blazer, he went on to refer to Monday’s vote in Israel’s parliament: “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.”
Monday will see the beginning of voting in the Knesset to ratify the first of a package of reforms in Netanyahu’s highly contested judicial overhaul, which has ignited months of nationwide protests and concern abroad for Israel’s democracy.
Lawmakers on Sunday began debating the bill, which would limit the Supreme 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.
‘We’re scared, we’re angry’
As the debate in parliament went on, tens of thousands of Israelis opposing the judicial changes 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,” Tzivia Guggenheim, 24, a student in Jerusalem, said outside her tent.
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.
Critics say the amendment is being rushed through the Knesset 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.
Crisis hits the military
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 is at risk.
On Sunday, the Histadrut labour federation proposed a scaled-down version of the reform bill. But while centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid said that could be a basis for renewed compromise talks with the religious-nationalist coalition, Netanyahu’s Likud party rejected the proposal as too close to Lapid’s positions.
Israel Defence Forces Chief of Staff Lieut.-Gen. Herzi Halevi wrote in an open letter that “dangerous cracks” are formed when political disputes seep into the military, and he called on all reservists to report for service.
“If we don’t have a strong and united defence force, if Israel’s best do not serve in the IDF, we will no longer be able to exist as a country in the region,” Halevi wrote.
The furor over the judiciary has contributed to strains in relations with the United States, as have surging Israeli-Palestinian violence and progress in Iran’s nuclear program.
Washington has urged Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption charges, to seek broad agreements over any judicial reforms.
Netanyahu’s office said his pacemaker procedure went smoothly and he was expected to be discharged later on Sunday. But a medical source said doctors were recommending he stay in hospital another night.
The prime minister’s office, which said planned trips to Cyprus and Turkey had been postponed, said it would provide an update if there were new details.
First elected to top office in 1996, Netanyahu has been both dynamic and polarizing. He spearheaded a free-market revolution in Israel while showing distrust of internationally backed peacemaking with the Palestinians and negotiations by world powers to cap Iran’s nuclear program.
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