Jerusalem CNN –
After six months of street protests, parliamentary maneuvers, compromise negotiations and increasingly urgent pleas from Washington DC, Israeli lawmakers on Sunday morning began debating the first draft judicial reform bill, which is due for a final vote.
The move comes while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in the hospital and has a pacemaker implanted in him.
Netanyahu has pushed ahead with his plans for the justice system after putting them on hold earlier this year amid widespread protests and international pressure.
He and his allies call the measures “reforms” and say they are needed to rebalance powers between courts, lawmakers and the government.
Opponents of the plan call it a coup and say it threatens to turn Israel into a dictatorship by removing key control over government actions.
So many lawmakers have asked for time to talk about the so-called adequacy bill that the debate is set to last 26 hours, beginning at 10 a.m. local time on Sunday morning and ending at noon the following day (3 a.m. ET on Sunday to 5 a.m. ET on Monday).
It is the first part of a multifaceted judicial reform plan that will go to the final vote in the Knesset and could come into effect on Monday evening.
The adequacy law backed by Netanyahyu’s coalition government would strip the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable.
Other elements of the judiciary reform would give the coalition government more control over the appointment of judges and remove independent legal advisers from ministries. These bills are not as far along in the legislative process as the adequacy bill.
The Israel Bar Association is already preparing a legal challenge to the draft law, the bar group said on Sunday.
Its executive body, the Bar Council, is holding an emergency meeting to approve the decision to petition the Supreme Court to overturn the adequacy law if it passes on Monday, the bar association said.
The Bar Association also warned that it was closing “in protest of the anti-democratic legislative process,” the statement said. This means that the Bar Association would not offer professional services to its members and lawyers would not go on strike.
In the final vote, Netanyahu faces health problems. A pacemaker was implanted in the Israeli leader early Sunday morning, according to a statement from his office.
The procedure took place at Tel Hashomer Hospital, the statement said. The Prime Minister was sedated during the operation.
Netanyahu released a short video statement later on Sunday, saying he was doing “greatly” after the operation. “I want to say thank you to the many of you who have asked how I am doing. I’m doing well. Tomorrow morning I will join my colleagues in the Knesset,” Netanyahu said in the 25-second video.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Israel again on Saturday to protest against the reform.
In Jerusalem, demonstrators waved flags, blew horns, shouted “democracy” and took selfies – the culmination of a protest march that began Tuesday night in Tel Aviv.
Amir Levy/Getty Images
Thousands of Israelis march in Jerusalem with the Israeli flag to protest the government’s reform plan.
“We will not allow them to destroy our democracy. “Benjamin Netanyahu is a criminal and we need to get rid of him,” protester Yair Amon told CNN, promising demonstrations would not stop even if the Knesset passed the first part of the law.
Meanwhile, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday took a stand against the growing number of Israelis who have vowed to stop volunteering for service if the government’s controversial judicial reform plan comes into effect.
“No soldier has the right to say that he will no longer serve,” he said in an open letter to the military on Sunday.
“I call on all reservists, even in these difficult days, to separate civil protests from reporting to the security service. The calls not to report for duty are damaging the IDF and its preparedness,” said Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, Israel’s top military officer.
Halevi’s letter comes after more than 1,000 Israel Air Force reserve officers vowed to stop volunteering if the judicial reform bill is passed.