Israel parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein resigns rather than obey high court order

A protester shouts slogans during a demonstration in front of the Knesset celebrating the resignation of the Speaker Yuli Eldenstein in Jerusalem on March 25, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

Israel parliament speaker Yuli Edelstein resigns rather than obey high court order

  • Yuli Edelstein had suspended parliamentary activities last week
  • Likud bloc accused of shielding Benjamin Netanyahu from legislation that would limit his lengthy rule

JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament speaker resigned Wednesday after seven years on the job rather than comply with a Supreme Court order to convene a vote on his replacement, dealing a blow to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he tries to remain in power amid an outbreak of the coronavirus.
Yuli Edelstein had suspended parliamentary activities last week, citing procedural issues and restrictions on large gatherings due to the spread of the coronavirus. But opponents accused him of blocking a vote after his right-wing bloc failed to win a majority in March 2 elections in order to shield Netanyahu from legislation that would limit his lengthy rule.
Edelstein dismissed a Supreme Court call to explain his delay in convening the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, and that sparked an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with the Supreme Court chief justice ordering him to hold a vote and accusing him of “undermining the foundations of the democratic process.” With other top members of Netanyahu’s Likud party urging him to defy the order, he responded that he would “not agree to an ultimatum” and resigned instead.
“The Supreme Court decision destroys the work of the Knesset. The Supreme Court decision marks a harsh and arrogant intervention of the judicial branch in the affairs of the elected legislative branch,” Edelstein charged in his last appearance as speaker.
He said he would step down so as not to allow Israel to “descend into anarchy” and devolve into civil war. But in his last act he also said parliament would only reconvene next week, in apparent subversion of the Supreme Court order that a vote be held by Wednesday. The move may put him in contempt of the court and opposition figures indicated they would file another petition against him to force his hand.
“This is a black day for democracy,” said Eliad Shraga, the chairman of the non-profit Movement for Quality Government in Israel.
The showdown marked the height of an ever-deepening 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 the caretaker government has enacted to quell the spread of the new virus.
Netanyahu’s Likud emerged as the largest party in the election earlier this month, but along with his smaller religious and nationalist allies, won only the support of 58 lawmakers — leaving his right-wing bloc three seats short of the required majority in parliament. Opposition leader Benny Gantz is backed by a slim majority in the newly elected Knesset and has been pushing for the country’s legislature to continue functioning at such a critical time, even without a permanent government in place.
His majority bloc is deeply divided along ideological lines and unlikely to band together to form an alternative government. But they are determined to oppose the criminally indicted Netanyahu and seem willing to cooperate in parliament, accusing Edelstein of shuttering the halls of the legislature in order to keep his job and shield his beleaguered party leader.
They bloc is expected to win a vote to nominate Meir Cohen of Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party as Edelstein’s replacement. They convened several decision-making committees to oversee government activity, including one devoted to the corona crisis, and are expected to push through legislation that could prevent Netanyahu from serving as prime minister in the future.
Edelstein’s resignation marked the first time in Israeli history that a Knesset speaker had stepped down.
“The Israeli parliament belongs to Israel’s citizens, and their elected representatives will follow the laws of the state of Israel and the rulings of its courts. No one is above the law,” Gantz tweeted.
Netanyahu has called on Gantz to join him in an emergency government devoted to handling the coronavirus crisis together and to avoid the continued political deadlock that would likely force yet another election — one that likely won’t even be possible to carry out given the current state of lock down and contagion. But with Edelstein’s resignation, the option of unity appeared off the table.
The country has been nearly entirely shut down, with tens of thousands put out of work and all but essential movement from the home barred.
New restrictions approved Wednesday limit all those besides personnel deemed essential from venturing more than 100 meters (yards) from their homes, and all places of worship shuttered. In a recent surge, more than 2,000 Israelis have been infected, with 37 in serious condition. Five elderly Israelis with pre-existing medical conditions have died.
Gantz has pledged to support the government in its effort to combat the virus. But he and his allies have been skeptical about Netanyahu’s power-sharing overtures, concerned that he will not follow through on his promises to cede power in 18 months.
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.
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 and waved black flags to protest what they consider an assault on Israeli democracy. Netanyahu supporters have held small counter rallies as well.


Iraq PM pays respects to slain scholar’s family, calls him ‘hero’

Updated 2 min 32 sec ago

Iraq PM pays respects to slain scholar’s family, calls him ‘hero’

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhemi paid his respects on Wednesday to the family of slain scholar and government adviser Hisham Al-Hashemi, pledging to “avenge” his death.
Hashemi, 47, was a specialist in extremist movements and had developed a vast network of top decision makers, armed groups and rival parties, often mediating among them.
He was shot dead outside his Baghdad home on Monday night by gunmen on motorcycles, leaving behind a wife, three sons and a daughter.
On Wednesday, Kadhemi paid his respects to the family, calling Hashemi — a personal friend and adviser — a “hero.”
“Those afraid of a word can only be described as cowards. Hisham did nothing but try to help Iraqis through his words,” said Kadhemi, hugging the deceased’s tearful three sons Issa, Moussa and Ahmed.
Their names translate in Arabic to Jesus, Moses and another name for the Prophet Muhammad.
The three boys had rushed outside their home on Monday after hearing gunshots and helped neighbors pull their father’s bullet-riddled body from his car.
“This behavior is not Iraqi. Iraqis don’t kill Iraqis,” Kadhemi said.
“I will avenge him, and God willing his killers will not go free. I am your brother, and Issa, Moussa and Ahmed are my children,” the premier told Hashemi’s widow.
“This is my duty and the state’s duty,” he added.
Hashemi was a renowned researcher on Daesh and had more recently become outspoken against rogue armed actors in Iraq.
He was no stranger to intimidation efforts, but those close to him told AFP he had received more serious threats from Iran-backed groups in recent weeks.
Experts have voiced fear that Hashemi’s killing would usher in a dark era in which prominent voices critical of political parties and armed groups would be violently silenced.
Already, there has been no accountability for more than 550 people killed in protest-related violence since October, when mass rallies slammed Iraq’s government as corrupt, inept and beholden to neighboring Iran.
Among them are around two dozen activists who were shot dead, often by masked assailants on motorcycles.