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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was rushed to hospital to have a pacemaker fitted to his heart in the early hours of Sunday, as a bitter battle over his government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary neared a boiling point.
Lawmakers are set to vote Monday on the first provision of the reform, which has plunged Israel into its deepest political crisis in years, sparking 29 weeks of mass protests, drawing criticism from the United States and opening divisions in the country’s vital military reserve.
Doctors at Sheba Medical Center near Tel Aviv said urgent action to provide the 73-year-old Netanyahu with a pacemaker — a device designed to pace the heart — was necessary because he suffers from an irregular heartbeat.
Netanyahu was fitted with a heart monitor a week before he was due to receive hospital treatment for what his office said at the time was “dehydration” from spending too much time in the sun.
“It went very well, the prime minister is doing very well,” Eyal Nof, head of the invasive electrophysiology service at Sheba, said in a statement Sunday morning.
And in a short video posted Sunday afternoon, Netanyahu said he was “doing a great job.” He is expected to leave hospital on Monday and said he will attend the vote. “We are continuing efforts to complete the legislation and efforts to do so with agreement,” he added.
Netanyahu’s hospitalization came amid mounting protests against reform being pushed by his coalition with far-right and religious parties. Tens of thousands of demonstrators poured into Jerusalem on Saturday evening after a 70-kilometre, four-day march from Tel Aviv, while more than 100,000 others took part in a demonstration in central Tel Aviv.
More protests are scheduled for Sunday night, and Arnon Bar-David, head of the Histadrut, Israel’s largest union, said he would “not hesitate to act” if no compromise was reached. “Everyone on both sides must realize that we are going through a historic and crucial period for the future of our country,” he said.
Street rallies were accompanied by intense drumbeats of protests from Israeli army reservists, as a 10,000-strong group known as Brothers in Arms said on Saturday they would stop volunteering to serve in protest of the reform.
Their announcement followed a similar threat by the Air Force’s 1,100 reservists on Friday, prompting Admiral Daniel Hagary, the Army’s spokesperson, to warn that “the cohesion of the Army has been damaged.” [in a way] Which will take a long time to fix.”
In an indication of the military leaders’ concern about the impact of the reserve’s threats, the Chief of Staff, Herzi Halevy, warned in a message to the soldiers Sunday morning that “we will not be able to exist as a state in this region” if the army is not united and strong. “It is our duty to prevent these fissures from widening,” he wrote.
A cabinet meeting scheduled for Sunday morning was canceled due to Netanyahu’s hospitalization and the postponement of trips to Turkey and Cyprus that he was scheduled to take later this week. But the parliamentary debate over the first of the judicial changes pushed by his coalition has begun as planned.
The dispute revolves around a bill that would prevent Israel’s Supreme Court from using the standard of “reasonableness” to invalidate government decisions.
Government officials say this change and others, such as the reconfiguration of the body that appoints judges, are necessary to rein in the powers of an overly active judiciary that they claim has pursued a partisan left-wing agenda.
But critics see the proposals as a politically motivated attack on checks on Israeli governments, which would pave the way for stripping away rights for minorities, fostering corruption and harming the economy.