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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Netanyahu hospitalized for heart defect as Israel’s turmoil intensifies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was hospitalized on Sunday for a heart procedure to implant a pacemaker.

By Patrick Kingsley and Isabel Kershner

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

Doctors at the Sheba Medical Center, east of Tel Aviv, said Sunday morning that the unexpected operation had been successful and “the prime minister is doing very well.”

But Netanyahu was expected to remain hospitalized until at least Monday, a spokesperson for the hospital said. 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 as planned that day.

Netanyahu’s operation 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 army duty if the judicial overhaul goes ahead.

These moves have heaped pressure on Netanyahu, whom a group of former army chiefs, police commissioners and intelligence agency directors accused Saturday night of dividing the country and endangering its security by advancing the judicial overhaul plan.

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 and allow Netanyahu’s far-right ruling coalition — the most ultraconservative and ultranationalist in Israeli history — to create a less pluralist society.

Critics also fear that 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. 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 consecutive week Saturday night, as tens of thousands of protesters 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 of the marchers had been trekking for five days, after setting out from Tel Aviv, some 40 miles away, Tuesday night.

Hours later, 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 Friday.

The reservists’ warnings have led to fears within the defense establishment about Israel’s military readiness. The Israel Defense Forces 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 Netanyahu on Saturday night, calling him “the person directly responsible for the serious damage to the IDF and Israel’s security.”

Hours later, the prime minister began experiencing an irregularity in his heart, which doctors at the Sheba Medical Center later described as a “transient atrioventricular block.” The irregularity was detected by a heart-monitoring device fitted at Sheba less than a week ago, after Netanyahu was rushed to the hospital following a dizzy spell.

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