Premier’s party, Supreme Court at risk of clash
JERUSALEM — Israel appeared on the verge of a constitutional crisis Tuesday as top members of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud urged their party colleagues and parliament speaker to defy a Supreme Court order to let lawmakers hold a vote for his successor.
After suspending parliamentary activities last week, citing procedural issues and restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus, Yuli Edelstein on Monday dismissed the court’s call to explain his delay in convening the Israeli Knesset, or parliament.
It sparked an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut ordering him to hold a vote by Wednesday and ruling that “the continued refusal to allow the vote in the Knesset plenum on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process.”
Even after that, at least two Likud Cabinet ministers, including Netanyahu’s surrogate interim justice minister, called on Edelstein to defy the order, deeming it a judicial “coup” against Israel’s elected officials. Cabinet Minister Yariv Levin led the charge, accusing the court of trampling the principle of separation of powers. He said it was creating “anarchy” and acting as if it “owned the country.”
Edelstein did not release any comment Tuesday on how he would proceed.
Netanyahu has yet to comment but others in the party, while equally lambasting the high court, called on Edelstein to respect its ruling to avoid a fullfledged constitutional crisis at such a sensitive time.
The developments marked the apex of an everdeepening standoff between Netanyahu’s opponents and supporters in the wake of the country’s third inconclusive election in less than a year and against the backdrop of a series of emergency executive measures enacted to quell the spread of the new virus.
The opposition Blue and White party, backed by a slim majority in the newly elected
Knesset, said the country’s legislature must continue to function at such a critical time to provide oversight of the government. The party accuses Netanyahu and his caretaker government of carrying out undemocratic measures amid the crisis, and using it as cover to cling to power.
“We cannot allow Israeli democracy to be trampled upon. Not on my watch,” Blue and White leader Benny Gantz posted on Facebook.
With the country in nearshutdown mode, Netanyahu has already managed to postpone his own pending criminal trial on serious corruption charges and authorize unprecedented electronic surveillance of Israeli citizens.
Even amid the health scare, Israelis have taken to the streets to protest what they consider an assault on Israeli democracy.
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benajamin Netanyahu and the Likud party protest outside parliament in Jerusalem. Likud members are urging defiance of some Supreme Court orders.