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Netanyahu Fitted With Heart Pacemaker as Israel’s Turmoil Intensifies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in a dark suit and blue tie.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was hospitalized on Sunday for a heart procedure to implant a pacemaker.Credit...Menahem Kahana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was rushed to the hospital early Sunday for surgery to implant a pacemaker, casting new uncertainty over his government’s deeply contentious plan to pass a law on Monday to limit judicial power.

Doctors at the Sheba Medical Center, east of Tel Aviv, said on Sunday morning that the unexpected procedure had been successful and that “the prime minister is doing very well.” But Mr. Netanyahu was expected to remain hospitalized until at least Monday, a spokesman for the hospital said.

Pacemakers are usually inserted into the chest area through a small incision and are designed to regulate a person’s heartbeat and prevent problems that could end in cardiac arrest. Small pacemakers can also be fitted without a chest incision and with a minimally invasive procedure.

The government’s weekly cabinet meeting, originally scheduled for Sunday morning, was postponed until Monday, and it was unclear whether a vote in Parliament over the judicial overhaul would proceed on Monday as planned.

Mr. Netanyahu’s surgery came amid what many consider to be Israel’s gravest domestic crisis since its founding 75 years ago.

The prime minister was hospitalized hours after an unusual surge in street protests, threats of labor strikes and warnings from thousands of military reservists that they would refuse to volunteer for military duty if the judicial overhaul goes ahead. Nevertheless, Mr. Netanyahu’s government appeared determined to press on with the plan on Sunday, even after his hospitalization.

On Sunday morning, Parliament began a debate ahead of a final vote on a bill that would prevent the Supreme Court from using the grounds of reasonableness to strike down government decisions or appointments. The debate was expected to last 26 hours.

Before the debate began, thousands of people gathered at the Western Wall, a Jewish holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, and held a mass prayer for national unity while public figures made last-ditch efforts to persuade the government to reach some consensus over the bill with the opposition.

But the political fissure only deepened as Mr. Netanyahu’s allies declared that the legislation would be passed with or without agreement. And more large street protests — both for and against the judicial overhaul — were planned later in the day.

The turmoil has heaped pressure on Mr. Netanyahu. A group of former army chiefs, police commissioners and intelligence agency directors accused him on Saturday night of dividing the country and endangering its security by advancing the judicial overhaul plan.

Mr. Netanyahu’s government wants to limit the ways in which the Supreme Court can overrule government decisions. The prime minister has said the plan would improve democracy by giving elected lawmakers greater autonomy from unelected judges.

But opponents say it will remove a key check on government overreach in a country that lacks a formal constitution and allow Mr. Netanyahu’s far-right ruling coalition — the most ultraconservative and ultranationalist in Israeli history — to create a less pluralist society.

Critics also fear that Mr. Netanyahu, who is currently standing trial for corruption, might take advantage of a weakened Supreme Court to push through other changes that might undermine his prosecution. Mr. Netanyahu denies both the corruption charges and any claim that he would use his position to disrupt the trial.

Demonstrations against the overhaul entered their 29th straight week on Saturday night, as tens of thousands marched into Jerusalem from the mountains outside the city, blocking parts of a major highway with a sea of blue-and-white Israeli flags. Some had been trekking for five days after setting out from Tel Aviv, some 40 miles away, on Tuesday night.

Protesters have also set up a tent city in a park below the Parliament building in Jerusalem.

After a late-night emergency meeting, the country’s main labor union said it was considering a general strike, in rare coordination with the country’s largest alliance of business leaders. And a group representing 10,000 military reservists said its members would resign from military duty if the overhaul goes ahead without social consensus — adding their names to a smaller group of 1,000 Air Force reservists who made a similar threat on Friday.

The reservists’ warnings have led to fears within the defense establishment about Israel’s military readiness. The Israel Defense Forces, or I.D.F., are heavily reliant on reservists, particularly the Air Force.

Citing these fears, a group of 15 retired army chiefs, former police commissioners and former directors of the foreign and domestic intelligence agencies wrote a public letter to Mr. Netanyahu on Saturday night, calling him “the person directly responsible for the serious damage to the I.D.F. and Israel’s security.”

Hours later, the prime minister began experiencing an irregularity in his heart. It was detected by a heart-monitoring device fitted at Sheba less than a week ago, after Mr. Netanyahu was rushed to the hospital following what one of the doctors at the hospital described on Sunday as a fainting episode.

At the time, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said he had experienced mild dizziness, and the doctors said he was suffering from dehydration after being out in the sun during a heat wave. But he was kept in the hospital overnight, underwent tests in the cardiac department and left with an implanted heart monitor.

The data from the device was “an indication for urgent pacemaker implantation,” according to Prof. Roy Beinart, the director of Sheba’s department of rhythm disturbances and pacing.

Gabby Sobelman contributed reporting from Rehovot, Israel.

Posted on 23 Jul 2023 14:29 link