Israeli Netanyahu is hospitalized with a pacemaker. He says he will go ahead with judicial overhaul

JERUSALEM (AP) — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was rushed to hospital early Sunday for an emergency procedure to implant a pacemaker, throwing the country into deeper turmoil after widespread protests over his controversial judicial overhaul plan.

Netanyahu’s office said he would be sedated and a senior deputy, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, would replace him while he underwent the procedure. But in a brief video statement, Netanyahu also said he “feels good” and plans to move forward with his plan upon his release. Levin is the mastermind behind the redesign.

Netanyahu’s announcement, released well after midnight, came a week after he was hospitalized for what was described as dehydration. He also came after a tumultuous day that saw some of the biggest protests yet against the judicial overhaul plan.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Israel on Saturday evening, while thousands of people marched towards Jerusalem and camped near the Knesset, or parliament, ahead of an expected vote on Monday that would approve a key part of the overhaul.

Further ratcheting up the pressure on the Israeli leader, more than 100 retired security chiefs have spoken out in favor of the growing ranks of military reservists who say they will stop reporting for duty if the plan passes.

Netanyahu and his far-right allies announced the overhaul plan in January, days after taking office. They say the plan is necessary to limit what they say are the excessive powers of unelected judges. Critics say the plan will destroy the country’s system of checks and balances and set it on the path to authoritarian rule. US President Joe Biden has urged Netanyahu to put the plan on hold and seek broad consensus.

Netanyahu, 73, has a busy schedule and his office says he is in good health. But over the years he has released few details or medical records. On July 15, he was rushed to Israeli Sheba Hospital with dizziness. He later said he was out in the hot sun and didn’t drink enough water.

His return to Sheba for the pacemaker procedure indicated that his health issues were more serious than initially indicated. In the video, Netanyahu said he was fitted with a monitor after being hospitalized last week, and when an alarm sounded late Saturday, it meant he needed a pacemaker immediately.

“I feel fine, but I listen to my doctors,” he said.

It was not immediately clear what the hospitalization meant for the judicial overhaul, which has bitterly divided the nation. Netanyahu said he expected to be released in time to go to the Knesset for Monday’s vote. Meanwhile, his office said his weekly cabinet meeting, which usually takes place every Sunday morning, has been postponed.

A pacemaker is used when a patient’s heart beats too slowly, which can cause fainting, according to the National Institutes of Health. It can also be used to treat heart failure. By sending electrical impulses to the heart, the device keeps a person’s heart rate at a normal rate. Patients with pacemakers often return to regular activities within days, according to the NIH.

The procedure normally involves a doctor inserting the pacemaker near the collarbone, according to the Mayo Clinic. A hospitalization of at least one day is generally necessary.

As Netanyahu spoke, thousands of Israelis camped out in Jerusalem’s main park, a short walk from the Knesset, after completing a four-day march from Tel Aviv to rally opposition to the judicial overhaul. Late Saturday, hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets of Tel Aviv and other cities in a final show of force in the hope of preventing the judicial overhaul.

In scorching heat reaching 33C (91F), the procession to Jerusalem turned the city’s main entrance into a sea of ​​blue and white Israeli flags as marchers completed the final leg of a four-day, 70-kilometre (45-mile) trek from Tel Aviv.

The marchers, who grew from hundreds to thousands as the march progressed, were greeted in Jerusalem by crowds of cheering protesters before settling into rows of small white tents.

The proposed overhaul has drawn heavy criticism from business and medical leaders, and a growing number of military reservists in key units have said they would stop reporting for duty if the plan goes through, raising fears that Israel’s security could be at risk. An additional 10,000 reservists announced they were suspending their duties on Saturday evening, according to “Brothers in Arms”, a protest group representing retired soldiers.

More than 100 former senior security officials, including retired military commanders, police commissioners and heads of intelligence agencies, joined those calls on Saturday, signing a letter to Netanyahu accusing him of compromising the IDF and urging him to suspend the legislation.

Among the signatories were Ehud Barak, former Israeli prime minister, and Moshe Ya’alon, former army chief and defense minister. Both are political rivals of Netanyahu.

“The legislation crushes those things shared by Israeli society, tears the people apart, disintegrates the IDF and deals fatal blows to Israel’s security,” the former officials wrote.

In his statement, Netanyahu said he would continue to seek compromise with his opponents. He suspended the plan in March after widespread protests, but revived it last month after compromise talks broke down.

Israel Katz, a senior cabinet minister from Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the bill would somehow pass on Monday and dismissed pressure from the ranks of the military, the most respected institution of Israel’s Jewish majority. “There is a clear attempt here to use military service to force the government to change policy,” he told Channel 12 TV.

The overhaul measure would limit the Supreme Court’s review powers by preventing judges from overturning government decisions on the grounds that they are “unreasonable”.

Proponents say the current “reasonableness” standard gives judges excessive powers over decision-making by elected officials. Critics say removing the standard, which is invoked only in rare cases, would allow the government to make arbitrary decisions, make inappropriate appointments or firings and open the door to corruption.

Monday’s vote would mark the first major bill to be approved.

The overhaul also calls for other sweeping changes aimed at restricting the powers of the judiciary, ranging from limiting the Supreme Court’s ability to challenge parliamentary decisions to changing the way judges are selected.

The protesters, who come from a wide cross-section of Israeli society, see the overhaul as a power grab fueled by personal and political grievances from Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, and his associates, who want to deepen Israel’s control over the occupied West Bank and perpetuate controversial exemption plans for ultra-Orthodox men.

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