Netanyahu gets pacemaker ahead of vote on judicial reforms

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu underwent surgery to implant a pacemaker on Sunday ahead of a debate in parliament on a controversial judicial overhaul bill that has brought tens of thousands of protesters to the streets.

The judicial revamp proposed by Netanyahu’s hard-right government has split the nation and sparked one of the biggest protest movement’s in Israel’s history since it was unveiled in January.

Opponents see the proposed revamp as a threat to Israel’s democracy.

The surgery on Netanyahu was performed at Sheba Medical Center, a statement from his office said, while Deputy Prime Minister Yariv Levin stood in for him.

A week ago Netanyahu, 73, had been discharged from the same medical centre after a night of hospitalisation following complaints of dizziness.

“A week ago I had a monitoring device implanted and this device beeped this evening and announced that I needed to get a pacemaker. I have to do this tonight, I feel great and I listen to my doctors,” Netanyahu said in a video posted on his Facebook page.

The hospital later confirmed that his condition was good after the overnight surgery.

“He will remain under medical supervision in the cardiology department,” it said in a statement.

Netanyahu’s latest health scare comes with lawmakers set to debate the judicial overhaul bill in parliament later Sunday, to be followed by a vote on Monday.

“The doctors tell me that I will be free and I will be released from the hospital tomorrow afternoon and will be able to go to the Knesset to vote,” the prime minister said prior to the surgery.

The final vote Monday will be on the “reasonability” clause through which judges can strike down government decisions.

Mass protests

Netanyahu’s government, which includes extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies, plans to curb the Supreme Court’s powers granted under this clause, arguing that the changes are necessary to ensure a better balance of power.

Critics accuse Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies, of trying to use the reforms to quash possible judgements against him. He rejects the accusation.

The “reasonability” clause was most recently cited by Israel’s top court to force Netanyahu to remove an ultra-Orthodox cabinet member over a previous tax evasion conviction.

If approved in the final vote Monday, it would be the first major component of the proposed legal overhaul to become law.

Other proposed reforms include giving the government a greater say in the appointment of judges.

Protests have drawn support from across political and social strata, including both the left and the right, secular and religious groups, peace activists and military reservists, as well as blue-collar and workers in the tech sector crucial to the country’s economy.

On Saturday, tens of thousands rallied in Tel Aviv, the country’s commercial centre, and near parliament in Jerusalem, as well as elsewhere in the country.

In Tel Aviv, protesters rallied chanting pro-democracy slogans and beating drums at their 29th consecutive weekly rally.

“Democracy or revolution! Respect existence or expect resistance!” chanted protesters, many wearing shirts with “Democracy” printed on them.

“The government is not listening to us, it means it’s the beginning of a new era, a bad era,” protester Idit Dekel, 55, told AFP.

“For me it is catastrophic. It’s the beginning of something we have never experienced before,” added Dekel, a tech employee.

‘Extreme government’

On Saturday evening, thousands of protesters also entered Jerusalem and rallied near parliament, the Supreme Court, and the prime minister’s residence.

They arrived after a multi-day march that began in Tel Aviv earlier in the week.

“This government is an extreme, religious government, and hopefully we will take it down as quickly as possible,” said Guy Maidan, who had participated in the march along with his family.

By evening many set up make-shift tents to camp near the Knesset as lawmakers begin their debate on the “reasonability clause”.

Protester Keren Mor said she was campaigning for the rights of all communities.

“Women, LGBTQ, Arabs, Hasidic, all of them feel that their rights are overthrown by the government,” Mor told AFP at the Jerusalem protest.

“They are trying to overthrow the entire democracy, basic civil law and human rights, and we’re here to stop it.”

Protesters also got support from more than 1,100 air force reservists, including fighter pilots, who have threatened to suspend their volunteer service if the reforms become law.

The proposed revamp has also drawn international criticism, including from US President Joe Biden.

Late Thursday, Netanyahu said he was “still trying to reach an agreement with the opposition”, mainly on the “reasonability” clause.

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