Israel’s Netanyahu recovers from heart procedure as tensions mount over judicial overhaul plan

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was recovering in hospital on Sunday after an emergency heart procedure as opposition to his government’s controversial plan to overhaul the judiciary reached fever pitch and unrest gripped the country.

Netanyahu’s doctors said on Sunday that the pacemaker implantation went well and Netanyahu, 73, was feeling well. According to his office, he was to be released later that day. But tensions were mounting as lawmakers were set to begin a marathon debate Sunday morning on the first major element of the overhaul, ahead of a vote in parliament enshrining it into law on Monday.

The mass protests were to continue. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Israel on Saturday evening, while thousands marched towards Jerusalem and camped near the Knesset, or parliament, ahead of Monday’s vote.

Netanyahu’s sudden hospitalization has added another dizzying twist to an already dramatic series of events that are sure to shape Israel’s future. It comes as Israel’s longest-serving leader faces his gravest leadership challenge and the country’s worst domestic crisis that has rocked the economy, forged cracks in the country’s military and tested the delicate social fabric that holds the polarized country together.

It was not immediately clear whether the hospitalization would have any effect on the legislative process. The weekly Cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday morning was postponed and Israel’s Army Radio reported that a security assessment of the effect of the legal dispute on the military was also removed from Netanyahu’s schedule.

In announcing the hospitalization, Netanyahu’s office said he would be sedated and a senior deputy, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, would replace him while he underwent the procedure. Levin, a close confidant of the prime minister, is the mastermind behind the overhaul.

In a brief video statement before the stakeout, Netanyahu said he “feels good” and plans to push ahead with the judicial overhaul upon his release, adding that he expects to be freed in time to go to the Knesset for Monday’s vote.

Netanyahu was rushed to hospital in the middle of the night a week after being hospitalized with what doctors said was dehydration. They released him after implanting a device to monitor his heart, but he was hospitalized again on Sunday with abnormalities, which required a pacemaker.

Professor Roy Beinart, senior physician and director of the Davidai Arrhythmia Center at the Sheba Medical Center Heart Institute, said in a video that the prime minister needed the pacemaker because he was suffering from “a temporary arrhythmia” or irregular heartbeat on Saturday night.

“The implantation went well, without any complications. He is not in a life-threatening condition,” Beinart said. “He is feeling well and is getting back to his daily routine.”

Further increasing the pressure on Israel’s leader, a growing number of military reservists have declared their refusal to serve under a government taking steps they see as putting the country on the path to dictatorship. These movements raised fears that the preparation of the army was compromised.

Among them are essential fighter pilots and Air Force ground personnel. Some 10,000 reservists across the military announced on Saturday evening that they too would stop reporting for duty. More than 100 retired security chiefs have publicly backed 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 suspended the overhaul in March after intense pressure from protesters and labor strikes that halted outbound flights and shuttered parts of the economy. After talks broke down to find a compromise, he said his government was pushing ahead with the overhaul.

Netanyahu has a busy schedule and his office says he is in good health. But over the years, she has released few details regarding her well-being or her medical records.

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. A hospitalization of at least one day is generally necessary.

Lawmakers are set to vote on an overhaul measure that would limit the Supreme Court’s review powers by preventing judges from overturning government decisions on the grounds that they are “unreasonable”. Monday’s vote would mark the first major bill to be approved.

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

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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