The High Court of Justice ordered the Knesset to hold a vote on choosing a new speaker on Thursday, March 26, giving a temporary authorization to veteran Labor leader MK Amir Peretz to lead the session. The decision from the court, issued after midnight Wednesday, came after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right Likud party, resigned in a bid to avoid an earlier court order compelling him to hold the vote in which he faced defeat.
Speaker Edelstein’s unprecedented bombshell announcement on Wednesday that he was resigning rather than call a parliament vote on his own replacement, as required earlier this week by the High Court of Justice, drew an immediate torrent of heated reactions.
Joint List and Hadash MKs censured Edelstein’s action. The head of the alliance MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) attacked Edelstein for his response to the High Court’s ruling: “Yuli, you lightweight. Do you know how many High Court rulings we would have liked to throw out of the window?” he says. “You wouldn’t survive for a second as an Arab.” Odeh lambasted the “cowards” who are unwilling to cry out “when the House is on fire.”
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash), said the speaker “defied the High Court ruling in Netanyahu’s service and is dragging us into a tyrannical regime. Citizens of Israel who care about the remnants of democracy must protest now.” “This is the height of the war waged by Netanyahu and Likud against the Knesset and democracy,” said Cassif.
Over 1,000 protesters gathered outside the Knesset on Wednesday afternoon to demonstrate against Edelstein. The protesters reached Jerusalem in a convoy of hundreds of cars and demanded that the Knesset immediately elect a new speaker to replace of Edelstein, whose resignation will only formally go into effect on Friday, 48 hours after the announced his resignation before the Knesset plenum. The protesters circled the Knesset compound and demanded that the leaders of the opposition act to convene the full Knesset to hold a vote for the election for speaker. Among those participating in the demonstration were Hadash lawmakers Odeh, Cassif and the new chair of the Special Committee for Labor and Welfare, Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman.
“The refusal of the leaders of the Likud, headed by the defendant Netanyahu, to honor the High Court of Justice’s decision highlights the depth of the pit that Israeli democracy is in,” said the organizers of the “Black Flag” protests. “This is not just the test of Israel’s leaders, but also of the willingness of Israelis to fight for democracy in a time of crisis,” they added.
This protest came after a convoy of hundreds of vehicles and some 2,000 protesters traveled to Jerusalem on Monday, March 23, via Route 1, the main highway connecting Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, to protest the steps taken to weaken the Knesset during the coronavirus crisis. Some 20 protesters stood along the shoulder of the road with Israeli flags and signs reading, “This is the end of democracy if we don’t wake up.”