Continents Update

With Israel in Turmoil, Netanyahu Is Hospitalized for Pacemaker

With his country on knife’s edge over his campaign to rein in the power of the judiciary, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was rushed to the hospital early Sunday morning to have a heart pacemaker fitted.

The procedure was performed hours before members of Parliament met to debate a measure that opponents view as nothing less than a Rubicon for their democracy: a law to limit the Israeli Supreme Court’s power to overturn government decisions and appointments. A binding vote on the bill is scheduled for Monday.

As antigovernment protesters camped out overnight near the Parliament building in a last-minute standoff over the legislation, Mr. Netanyahu’s office announced that he had undergone the procedure.

It was the second time in a little over a week that the prime minister, who is 73, had been hospitalized.

The first time, he went for a checkup after experiencing a fainting episode, and doctors gave him a heart monitor. This weekend, he returned to the hospital after the device detected an irregularity, and doctors installed a pacemaker to help regulate his heartbeat.

Doctors at the Sheba Medical Center, east of Tel Aviv, said Sunday morning that the unexpected procedure had been successful and that “the prime minister is doing very well.” But Mr. Netanyahu was expected to remain hospitalized until at least Monday, a spokesman for the hospital said.

It was one more wrinkle for a country already in turmoil.

Later on Sunday protesters on both sides of the debate surged in the streets and held mass, competing demonstrations in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and the main labor union put forward a compromise proposal as part of an effort to stave off a general strike. Thousands of military reservists have warned in recent days that they will refuse to volunteer for duty if the judicial overhaul goes ahead.

A former Israeli president, Reuven Rivlin, called on Mr. Netanyahu to “save our people from reaching the point of civil war,” and Isaac Herzog, the current president (the position is essentially a figurehead one), embarked on a round of emergency meetings with political leaders on Sunday night in an 11th-hour effort to broker a compromise.

On Sunday morning, Parliament began the debate ahead of the final vote on the bill, which would prevent the Supreme Court from using the grounds of reasonableness to strike down government decisions or appointments. The debate was expected to last 26 hours.

Before the debate began, thousands of people gathered at the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, and held a mass prayer for an agreed compromise over the judicial plan and for national unity. But the political fissure only deepened as Mr. Netanyahu’s allies declared that the legislation would be passed with or without agreement.

The Netanyahu government wants to limit the grounds on which the Supreme Court can overrule government decisions. The prime minister argues that his plan would improve democracy by giving elected lawmakers greater autonomy from unelected judges.

But opponents say it would remove an important check on government overreach in a country that lacks a formal constitution and allow Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition — the most ultraconservative and ultranationalist in Israeli history — to create a less pluralistic society.

Critics also fear that Mr. Netanyahu, who is facing trial on corruption charges, might take advantage of a weakened Supreme Court to push through other changes that might undermine his prosecution. Mr. Netanyahu denies both the corruption accusations and any assertion that he would use his position to disrupt the trial.

Demonstrations against the overhaul entered their 29th straight week on Saturday night, as tens of thousands marched into Jerusalem from the mountains outside the city, blocking parts of a major highway with a sea of blue-and-white Israeli flags. Some had been trekking for five days after setting out from Tel Aviv, some 40 miles away, on Tuesday night.

Protesters also set up a tent city in a park below the Parliament building in Jerusalem.

After a late-night emergency meeting, the country’s main labor union said it was considering a general strike, in rare coordination with Israel’s largest alliance of business leaders. And a group representing 10,000 military reservists said its members would resign from military duty if the overhaul went ahead without social consensus — adding their names to a smaller group of 1,000 Israeli Air Force reservists who made a similar threat on Friday.

The reservists’ warnings have led to concerns within the defense establishment about Israel’s military readiness. The Israel Defense Forces, or I.D.F., are heavily reliant on reservists, particularly the air force.

Citing these fears, a group of 15 retired army chiefs, former police commissioners and former directors of the foreign and domestic intelligence agencies wrote a public letter to Mr. Netanyahu on Saturday night, calling him “the person directly responsible for the serious damage to the I.D.F. and Israel’s security.”

Hours later, the prime minister began experiencing the irregularity in his heartbeat.

The data from the device was “an indication for urgent pacemaker implantation,” according to Prof. Roy Beinart, the director of Sheba’s department of rhythm disturbances and pacing.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel, and Roni Rabin from Tel Aviv.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button