Israel’s year of chaos neared a crescendo Sunday as thousands of military pilots and soldiers threatened not to report for volunteer duty if the far-right government refuses back down from a planned vote on limiting the power of the Supreme Court. Tens of thousands of citizens filled the streets, some spending their sixth night outdoors, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was rushed to the hospital for an emergency cardiac procedure.
The 73-year-old premier was still hospitalized late Sunday after a pacemaker was successfully implanted, according to his physicians, adding to the tension and uncertainty of the unprecedented domestic crisis that has racked the country since January.
The fight over the government’s bid to overhaul the judiciary — which, according to the original plans, included curbing the top court’s oversight powers and granting coalition lawmakers more authority to appoint judges — sparked a mass backlash immediately after it was proposed by the new-far right government when it took power with a four-seat parliamentary majority.
The proposal has drawn weekly mass protests across the country, as well as searing criticism from its top security officials. Opponents of the bill say it will undo Israel’s fragile democracy and skew the balance of power in a country that has no constitution. The Supreme Court is widely seen as one of the few institutions able to rein in the power of the governing majority, uphold civil rights and enforce the rule of law.
In Jerusalem, thousands of demonstrators camped outside the Knesset building as parliamentarians slogged through hours of formal debate ahead of Monday’s scheduled vote. Thousands more protesters linked arms to form a human chain stretching more than a mile from the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City to the Knesset, calling on lawmakers to halt the bill’s passage until a consensus is reached.
David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Donald Trump, and usually an unreserved supporter of the Israeli government, made a historical connection to ancient Jerusalem when he lambasted the judicial reform bill in a tweet Sunday, comparing it to the infamous destruction of the Jewish Second Temple by the Romans: “Very bad timing.” [Continue reading…]