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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hospitalized in the early hours of Sunday for a heart pacemaker implantation as a bitter dispute over his government’s plans to reform the judiciary reached boiling point.
Lawmakers are scheduled to vote on Monday on the first step of the reform that has plunged Israel into its deepest political crisis in years, sparked 29 weeks of mass protests, drew criticism from the US and opened cracks in the country’s crucial military reserve.
Doctors at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv said the urgent procedure of giving 73-year-old Netanyahu the heartbeat-regulating device was necessary because he had been suffering from abnormal heart rhythms.
Netanyahu had been fitted with a heart monitor a week earlier after being treated in hospital for “dehydration” caused by spending too much time in the sun.
“Everything has gone well, the prime minister is doing very well,” Eyal Nof, head of Sheba’s invasive electrophysiology service, said Sunday morning.
In a short video released Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu said he was doing “greatly”. He is expected to leave hospital on Monday and said he will take part in the vote. “We continue our efforts to complete the legislation and strive to achieve this in consensus,” he added.
Israeli President Isaac Herzog visited Netanyahu in hospital on Sunday night and later met opposition leader Yair Lapid in a last-ditch attempt to find a compromise on the law. “This is a time of emergency. An agreement must be reached,” Herzog said in a statement.
Netanyahu’s hospitalization came amid a spate of protests against reforms being pushed by his coalition of far-right and ultra-religious parties. Tens of thousands of protesters poured into Jerusalem on Saturday night after a 70-kilometer, four-day march from Tel Aviv, while more than 100,000 others took part in a demonstration in central Tel Aviv.
Large protests broke out again on Sunday evening, with the police in Jerusalem dispersing demonstrators with water cannons. Meanwhile, crowds gathered in Tel Aviv calling for the overhaul. Earlier in the day, Arnon Bar-David, the chairman of Histadrut, Israel’s largest union, said it “would not hesitate to act” if a compromise could not be found. “Everyone on both sides must recognize that we are at a historic and critical time for our country’s future,” he said.
The street rallies were accompanied by increasingly loud protest rallies by Israeli military reservists. A 10,000-strong group known as “Brothers in Arms” said Saturday they were stopping their voluntary service in protest of the overhaul.
Her announcement was followed by a similar threat from 1,100 Air Force reservists on Friday, prompting Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari, the military’s chief spokesman, to warn that the “military cohesion was damaged”. [in a way] which will take a long time to repair.”
In another sign of military leaders’ concern about the impact of reservists’ threats, Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi warned in a letter to soldiers Sunday morning that “we cannot exist as a country in this region” unless the army is united and strong. “It is our duty to prevent these cracks from widening,” he wrote.
A cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday morning was canceled due to Netanyahu’s hospitalization and trips to Turkey and Cyprus that he was due to take later this week were postponed. But as planned, a parliamentary debate began on the first judicial changes pushed by his coalition.
It is about a bill that would prevent Israel’s Supreme Court from using the standard of “reasonableness” to overrule government decisions.
Government officials say this change and others, such as the reshuffle of the panel that appoints judges, are necessary to curb the powers of an overly activist judiciary that they say is pursuing a partisan leftist agenda.
However, critics see the proposals as a politically motivated attack on Israeli government controls that would pave the way for the erosion of minority rights, encourage corruption and hurt the economy.