Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled unanimously on Monday night, March 23 that the speaker of the Knesset, Yuli Edelstein, must hold a vote by today, Wednesday, March 25, to elect a successor. In a dramatic and historical ruling, the court accused Edelstein of undermining democracy with his refusal to convene the Knesset to select a new speaker. The unanimous decision by five justices was issued barely an hour after Edelstein had rebuffed the justices earlier non-binding stance that such a vote must be held.
A number of high profile members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc called on Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to defy the High Court ruling.
All five justices, President Esther Hayut, Vice President Hanan Melcer, Uzi Vogelman, Neal Hendel and Yitzhak Amit expressed vehement discomfort with the idea that Edelstein was rejecting the will of a majority of 61 MKs, with Justice Hendel asking rhetorically if there was any precedent for this. Earlier on Monday evening Edelstein informed the High Court of Justice that he would not accede to its non-binding position that he should hold a vote to elect a new Knesset speaker by Wednesday. He said he considered that the court’s intervention in his decisions regarding the Knesset agenda “is not appropriate at this time.”
On Monday, hundreds of protesters took part in a demonstration in front of the Knesset against the far-right government’s anti-democratic actions allegedly justified by them due to “the coronavirus outbreak.” Joint List leader MK Ayman Odeh (Hadash) called the political crisis “unprecedented.” He participated in the protest and said, “No matter what they do, as long as Arabs and Jews stand together, they [the undemocratic forces of the right] will lose. Anyone who wants to defeat them must first defeat racism.” MK Ofer Cassif (Hadash – Joint List) also participated in the protest and said Jews and Arabs are united in wanting Netanyahu gone. “We stand with you against the corrupt and racist Netanyahu’s coup attempt, and for the public as a whole – Jews and Arabs, together.”
The statements by Likud ministers and several MKs, which drew immediate condemnation from at least two others within their party and many MKs across the aisle, marked a dramatic and possibly unprecedented turn in an already tortuously twisting political saga in which Hadash and Communist Party of Israel see a threat to democracy as the country attempts to navigate through the 15-month long political deadlock, exacerbated as it is on the backdrop of coronavirus outbreak.
With the support of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers, Blue & White is looking to oust Edelstein and thereby gain control of the parliament’s daily agenda, in part to oversee the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, but primarily seeking to advance legislation that would bar a Knesset member facing criminal charges from forming a government, effectively disqualifying Netanyahu. During a debate in the Knesset plenum on Monday evening, MK Cassif said the calls to defy the court were “another step in the fascist coup attempt” being carried out by the far-right transitional government. He called on Blue & White to “immediately renounce entry into a government under Netanyahu.”