Israel on edge, Netanyahu hospitalized ahead of Supreme Court overhaul vote

Israel’s far-right government is on track to pass on Monday the first bill in a controversial package of measures to overhaul the judiciary to weaken the Supreme Court. The effort has bitterly split Israeli society, sparking 29 straight weeks of protest by hundreds of thousands of citizens. Adding to the tumult, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 73, was rushed to the hospital early Sunday for emergency treatment of a previously undisclosed heart condition.

Netanyahu was released from the hospital Monday morning after a pacemaker was implanted. He had been hospitalized a week earlier, and doctors publicly blamed dehydration. On Sunday, they acknowledged that Netanyahu had been fitted with a heart monitor that showed anomalies prompting the pacemaker.

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More than half a million Israelis gathered in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and other cities on Saturday to protest the legislation, which would block the Supreme Court from overruling government actions for being unreasonable. Tens of thousands of people arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday after participating in a hot, four-day protest march from Tel Aviv.

Israel’s largest labor union, Histadrut, will decide Monday whether to call another general strike. Late Sunday, a business group representing some of Israel’s largest companies said its members will close shop Monday to pressure the government to revive compromise talks that fell apart in June. President Biden late Sunday publicly urged the Netanyahu government to slow down and focus on “pulling people together and finding consensus.”

A general strike by Histadrut in March, “combined with mass protests and threats by reservists to refuse to serve, ultimately led Netanyahu to pause the legislation,” The Wall Street Journal reported. More than 10,000 reservists, including an important core of fighter pilots, threatened over the weekend to resign from duty if the reanimated bills are passed. A handful of former military, police and spy chiefs backed the reservists while Israel’s top general warned that the divide in the military is threatening Israeli military readiness and national security. 

The broader judicial overhaul plan “has become a proxy for a broader emotional and even existential battle about the nature of the Israeli state,” and “emotions could scarcely be running higher,” The New York Times reported. “The dispute reflects a painful schism in Israeli society — between those who seek a more secular and pluralist country, and those with a more religious and nationalist vision.” Both sides claim to be saving Israeli democracy. 

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