Israel parliament begins mammoth judicial overhaul session with Netanyahu in hospital

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After six months of street protests, parliamentary maneuvering, compromise talks and increasingly urgent pleas from Washington DC, Israeli lawmakers Sunday morning began debating the first judicial reform bill to come up for a final vote.

The move comes with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in hospital, having been fitted with a pacemaker.

Netanyahu has been pressing on with his plans for the judicial system after pausing them earlier this year in the face of widespread protests and international pressure.

He and his allies call the measures “reforms” and say they are required to rebalance powers between the 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 the most significant check on government actions.

So many lawmakers have requested time to speak about the so-called reasonableness bill that the debate is scheduled to last for 26 hours, starting at 10am local time Sunday morning and lasting until noon the following day (3aET on Sunday until 5aET on Monday).

It’s the first part of the multi-pronged judicial overhaul plan to get to a final vote in the Knesset, and could be voted into law in on Monday evening.

The reasonableness bill, backed by Netanyahyu’s coalition government, would strip the Supreme Court of the power to declare government decisions unreasonable.

Other elements of the judicial overhaul would give the coalition government more control of the appointment of judges, and would remove independent legal advisors from government ministries. Those bills have not advanced as far in the legislative process at the reasonableness bill.

The Israel Bar Association is already preparing a legal challenge to the bill, the lawyers’ group said Sunday.

Its executive, the Bar Council, is holding an emergency meeting to approve the decision to petition the Supreme Court to cancel the reasonableness law if it passes on Monday, the Bar said.

The Bar is also warning it will shut down “as an act of protest against the anti-democratic legislative process,” the statement said. That means the Bar Association would not provide professional services to its members, not that lawyers would go on strike.

Netanyahu ‘doing great’

The final vote comes with Netanyahu facing health issues. The Israeli leader was fitted with a pacemaker early Sunday morning, according to a statement from his office.

The procedure happened at Tel Hashomer Hospital, says the statement. The prime minister was sedated during the surgery.

Netanyahu released a short video statement later Sunday, saying he was “doing great” after the operation. “I would like to thank the many of you who have asked how I am doing. I am doing great. Tomorrow morning I will join my colleagues in the Knesset,” Netanyahu said in the 25-second video.

Thousands of people again took to the streets of Israel on Saturday to protest the overhaul.

In Jerusalem protesters waved flags, blew horns, chanted “Democracy” and took selfies, the culmination of a protest march that began in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night.

Meanwhile, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) on Sunday took a stand against the growing number of Israelis vowing to stop volunteering for duty if the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan becomes law.

“No service members have the right to say that they will no longer serve,” he said in an open letter to the military on Sunday.

“I call on all reservists, even in these complex days, to separate civil protests from reporting for duty to the security services. The calls to not report for duty harm the IDF and its readiness,” 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 overhaul bill passes.

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