Israel: Parliament prepares to vote on controversial judicial reform measure

Israel’s parliament is due to vote on Monday on a key measure of a controversial judicial reform bill that is “divisive” according to US President Joe Biden, who has called for it to be postponed.

Monday’s vote, which will begin at 12:00 local time (09:00 GMT), will focus on the “reasonableness” clause in government decisions, which allows judges to overrule government decisions. At the end of the voting, a substantial portion of the project may have been adopted.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog was in last-minute talks to broker a deal between the opposition and the government. He visited the Prime Minister in the hospital where he underwent surgery to install a pacemaker.

Benjamin Netanyahu was released from the hospital on Monday morning after a pacemaker was fitted, according to the Sheba Medical Center. He indicated on Sunday that he would go to Parliament as soon as he leaves the hospital to vote.

According to Mr. Netanyahu’s government, which includes allies from ultra-Orthodox and far-right Jewish parties, the reform aims to rebalance powers, particularly by reducing the privileges of the Supreme Court, which the executive considers politicized for the benefit of parliament.

Its opponents believe that this risks opening the way to undemocratic or authoritarian drift.

The reform project sparked one of the largest protest movements in Israel’s history in January.

As this crucial vote draws closer, popular protests have intensified in recent days. After big rallies on Sunday, the protesters again took to the streets on Monday.

An AFP correspondent reported that police used water cannons on Monday morning to disperse hundreds of protesters who blocked the entrance to parliament, adding that some had been arrested.

– “Source of division” –

On Sunday, US President Joe Biden urged Israel not to rush into an increasingly “divisive” judicial reform.

In a statement published on the Axios news site and then sent to AFP by the White House, Biden said: “There is no point in hastening (reform) for Israeli leaders, the goal should be to bring people together and build consensus.”

He added, “From the perspective of Israel’s friends in the United States, it appears that the current proposal for judicial reform is increasingly divisive, no more or less.”

Returning from a trip to the United States on Sunday, President Herzog immediately began talks to try to find a compromise, notably meeting opposition leader Yair Lapid.

“This is an emergency. An agreement must be reached,” Mr. Herzog said in a statement released by his office, which did not provide details of the content of the talks.

Another opposition leader, former Defense Minister Benny Gantz, called for talks on Sunday, saying “we can reach an agreement but we have to block legislation on this measure”.

“We want to continue living in a Jewish and democratic state,” Lapid told parliament on Sunday. They demanded a “legislation stop” on this reform, saying, “We will not give up the future of our children.”

Despite his operation, Mr Netanyahu (73) has promised to be present during the vote on Monday. He was admitted to the hospital a few days back due to dizziness.

– “Keep the pressure on” –

“We are continuing our efforts to complete the reform (…) and to do so in agreement (with the opposition),” he said on Sunday afternoon. “Tomorrow (Monday) morning, I will join my friends in Parliament.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the initiator of the reform bill, said changes had been made in the text submitted to lawmakers on Monday to take criticism into account, but added that the coalition was still open to “compromises”.

Critics of the prime minister, who is on trial for corruption, accuse him of wanting to use the reform to reduce a possible verdict against him.

“We have to keep the pressure on, we have to save our democracy,” Amir Goldstein, a protester who spent the night outside parliament, told AFP.

Other provisions also provoked discontent from protesters, such as revising the procedure for appointing judges, which has already been adopted by delegates during the first reading.

“We have no constitution and while the Supreme Court is the only one protecting our rights, this government is trying to destroy it,” protester Shanna Orlick told AFP.

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