Israeli Supreme Court to rule on demand to reopen Knesset

Netanyahu’s rivals are attempting to force the Knesset into session, despite restrictions that limit the number of people permitted to assemble to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

By Associated Press

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political opponents on Sunday asked Israel’s Supreme Court to force parliament to resume its full activities, despite restrictions imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Parliament Speaker Yuli Edelstein, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, last week suspended parliamentary activities, preventing the newly elected legislature from choosing a new speaker and forming committees.

In a formal response to the Supreme Court, Israel’s attorney general said the emergency measures should not prevent parliament from convening and carrying out its duties.

According to Edelstein, the move is procedural given the state of emergency in the country and the health ministry guidelines prohibiting large public gatherings.

Opponents claim it’s a calculated move aimed at blocking efforts to replace Edelstein and allow the newly elected anti-Netanyahu bloc from pushing through its legislative agenda.

“The Knesset must get back to work at full throttle, both to secure transparency in decision-making and to oversee governmental decisions,” said Avi Nissenkorn, a senior member of the opposition Blue and White party.

Israel is facing a growing threat from the coronavirus pandemic, which comes on the heels of the country’s third inconclusive election in less than a year.

The number of those infected in Israel has multiplied greatly over the past week, reaching over 1,000 detected cases so far with 20 patients in serious condition. The country reported its first death over the weekend. With the public largely confined to their homes, the economy in danger and tens of thousands of people losing their jobs, Netanyahu has called for the establishment of an emergency unity government with his rivals, agreeing to step down in 18 months as part of such an agreement.

Netanyahu rival Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party have so far rejected overtures for a unity government.

Gantz and his allies have accused Netanyahu of using the coronavirus crisis to undermine the country’s democratic institutions by postponing a corruption trial and authorizing electronic surveillance of Israelis with coronavirus and those exposed to them.

Backed by a narrow majority, Gantz, a former military chief, was tasked last week by Israel’s president this week to try to form a new government and has three weeks left to do so. In the meantime, he is trying to push through legislation in parliament that would in effect prevent the long-serving Netanyahu from serving as prime minister in the future. The legislation would impose term limits on the prime minister and bar a politician indicted on criminal charges from being prime minister.

Likud said that if Edelstein, the parliament speaker, is “deposed” it will bring an end to unity negotiations and sentence Israel to yet another election, this time amid a global pandemic. Blue and White retorted that the Likud “ultimatum” proved it was bent on dragging the country into another pointless election.