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Business News/ News / World/  Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu hospitalized amidst mass protests over judicial overhaul plan

Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu hospitalized amidst mass protests over judicial overhaul plan

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is recovering in hospital after an emergency heart procedure. Supporters and opponents of his government's judicial overhaul plan held opposing rallies ahead of a crucial vote.

A woman dressed in 'Handmaid's Tale' costume holds a red flag during a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his nationalist coalition government's judicial overhaul, in the lead up to final vote on a law that would limit some Supreme Court power, in Jerusalem July 23, 2023. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday was undergoing recovery in a hospital following an emergency heart procedure. Concurrently, large crowds of both supporters and opponents of his government's judicial overhaul plan held opposing rallies in anticipation of a crucial upcoming vote.

As reported by AP, the unexpected hospitalization of Netanyahu for a pacemaker implant has introduced another surprising development to an already dramatic series of events that have deeply divided the nation and are expected to significantly impact Israel's future. The parliamentary vote scheduled for Monday is anticipated to pass the initial significant legislation in the contentious judicial overhaul plan.

Netanyahu's doctors confirmed on Sunday that the procedure had been successful. However, as of Sunday evening, the Prime Minister was still at Sheba Hospital, located near Tel Aviv.

In a brief video message from the hospital, the 73-year-old Netanyahu reassured the public that he was feeling well and expressed gratitude to his doctors for the treatment he received and for the warm wishes from the public.

Dressed in a white dress shirt and dark blazer, Netanyahu disclosed that he was actively seeking a compromise with his opponents while simultaneously preparing for an important parliamentary vote scheduled for Monday. The vote aims to enshrine a crucial aspect of the legislation into law.

“I want you to know that tomorrow morning I’m joining my colleagues at the Knesset," he said.

The overhaul calls for sweeping changes aimed at curbing the powers of the judiciary, from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are selected.

Netanyahu, along with his far-right allies comprising ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox parties, argues that the proposed changes are necessary to limit the authority of unelected judges. On the other hand, their opponents, primarily from Israel's professional middle class, assert that the plan will dismantle the country's delicate system of checks and balances, leading Israel towards an authoritarian form of governance. The proposed judicial overhaul has sparked a contentious debate between the two factions with opposing visions for the future of the nation's legal framework.

The proposal has resulted in seven months of extensive protests, facing strong disapproval from business and medical leaders. Additionally, there has been a significant increase in the number of military reservists in critical units expressing their intention to boycott reporting for duty if the plan is approved. This has raised concerns about the potential impact on Israel's security and stability.

President Joe Biden has urged Netanyahu to halt the implementation of the plan, while Israel's ceremonial president, Isaac Herzog, has made efforts to mediate a compromise between the Prime Minister and his adversaries. Following his visit to the White House, Herzog promptly visited Netanyahu's hospital room upon returning to Israel.

“This is a time of emergency," Herzog said. “We have to reach an agreement."

Herzog planned meetings later Sunday with Israel's opposition leader, Yair Lapid, and Benny Gantz, head of National Unity, another opposition party.

As they spoke, tens of thousands of people were gathering for mass rallies for and against the plan. Netanyahu's supporters thronged central Tel Aviv — normally the setting for anti-government protests — while his opponents marched on Israel's Knesset, or parliament.

Many of the protesters in Jerusalem had camped out in a nearby park, after completing a four-day march into the city from Tel Aviv on Saturday.

After seven months of mass protests against the plan, tensions were surging as lawmakers began a marathon debate over the first major piece of the overhaul ahead of Monday's vote.

Also Read: Israeli army kills 9 Palestinians in West Bank; About 3,000 escapes from refugee camp in Jenin

In a fiery speech launching the session, Simcha Rothman, a main driver of the overhaul, denounced the courts, saying they damaged Israel's democratic ideals by arbitrarily striking down 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."

Despite the attempts to project business as usual, Netanyahu's schedule was disrupted. His weekly Cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday morning was postponed. Two upcoming overseas trips, to Cyprus and Turkey, were being rescheduled, his office said.

Israeli media said last-ditch efforts were underway to find a solution out of the impasse. But it wasn't clear whether those would bear fruit.

In Monday's vote, legislators are to vote on an overhaul measure that would prevent judges from striking down government decisions on the basis that they are “unreasonable."

Proponents say the current “reasonability" standard gives judges excessive powers over decision-making by elected officials. Critics say removing it would allow the government to pass arbitrary decisions, make improper appointments or firings and open the door to corruption.

Speaking in parliament, opposition leader Yair Lapid called for Netanyahu to resume compromise talks and lauded the protesters for standing up to the government.

“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," he said.

Also Read: The Political Rise of Ultra-Orthodox Jews Shakes Israel’s Sense of Identity

Orit Farkash HaCohen, of the opposition National Unity party, broke down into tears as she criticized the government. “Our country is on fire. You've destroyed the country," she said. “I can't believe what I'm seeing."

Protesters, who come from a wide swath of Israeli society, see the overhaul as a power grab fueled by personal and political grievances of Netanyahu — who is on trial for corruption charges — and his partners who want to deepen Israel’s control of the occupied West Bank and perpetuate controversial draft exemptions for ultra-Orthodox men, AP reported.

Netanyahu was rushed to the hospital in the middle of the night a week after being hospitalized for what doctors said was dehydration.

The sudden hospitalization for the pacemaker procedure indicated that Netanyahu's health issues were more serious than what he initially said.

In a video statement, his doctors said they had implanted a device to monitor his heart after last week's health scare. When the device showed anomolies, they said he needed a pacemaker.

Professor Roy Beinart, senior physician and director at the Davidai Arrhythmia Center at Sheba Medical Center’s Heart Institute, said Netanyahu has suffered from a “conduction disorder," or irregular heart beat, for years.

Also Read: Israel PM Benjamin Netanyahu to undergo surgery to ‘implant pacemaker’

“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."

Despite maintaining a busy schedule and his office asserting that he is in good health, Netanyahu has faced criticism for being reticent about disclosing details regarding his well-being and medical history over the years.

Adding to the mounting pressure on the Israeli leader, a substantial number of military reservists have been vocal about their refusal to serve under a government that they believe is leading the country toward authoritarian rule. This development has raised concerns about the potential implications on the military's readiness and preparedness.

The opposition to the overhaul has gained considerable momentum, with over 100 retired security chiefs publicly supporting the growing ranks of military reservists who are planning to cease reporting for duty if the proposed plan is advanced.

“These are dangerous cracks," military chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi wrote in a letter to soldiers Sunday meant to address the tensions. “If we will not be a strong and cohesive military, if the best do not serve in the IDF, we will no longer be able to exist as a country in the region."

Netanyahu and his far-right allies unveiled the overhaul plan shortly after assuming office in January.

AP reported that earlier in March, following strong pressure from protesters and labor strikes that disrupted outgoing flights and paralyzed parts of the economy, Netanyahu decided to temporarily halt the overhaul. However, last month, as attempts to reach a compromise proved unsuccessful, he announced that his government would continue to pursue the implementation of the plan.

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