A noisy protest convoy made its way Monday to the Knesset in Jerusalem to continue protests begun last week against Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein and actions taken by him that included temporarily shuttering parliament, which they said threatens the democratic nature of the country.
Edelstein set off a firestorm of criticism last Wednesday after he refused to allow the Knesset plenum to convene to vote on establishing the Arrangements Committee and electing a new speaker. Edelstein at first argued the freeze was linked to safety precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak, and later also said it was meant to force Likud and Blue and White to compromise in unity talks.
Critics said it amounted to an illegal shuttering of parliament by Likud in order to improve the party’s leverage in the coalition talks. Some argued that it constituted part of an attempted political coup, with a parliamentary majority headed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz prevented from, assuming control of the Knesset’s agenda.
The High Court of Justice on Monday morning ordered Edelstein to hold the vote on the speaker’s job by Wednesday. Several ministers and MKs from Likud and its allies urged him to defy the court order, however, and Edelstein said he would respond to the ruling on Monday evening.
Hundreds of demonstrators in a long line of cars draped in Israeli and black flags reached access roads around the Knesset as parliament resumed on Monday, where drivers honked their horns and protesters rallied against what they called the “anti-democratic moves of recent weeks.”
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Organizers said in a statement, “The Israeli people deserve a functioning Knesset, a Knesset speaker who acts to oversee the work of the government and a prime minister who is not busy with his criminal cases. We will fight for the cornerstones of democracy.”
A similar convoy headed to Jerusalem last Thursday and was initially intercepted by police for ostensibly breaking social distancing rules. It was then allowed to proceed; three protesters were arrested during subsequent scuffles with police. There were no initial reports of arrests during Monday’s demonstration.
Although in its campaign against the spread of the coronavirus the government has placed severe restrictions on public gatherings, demonstrations are permitted, though participants are still expected to maintain social distancing of two meters from each other. Protesters Monday generally appeared to be abiding by the restrictions.
The protest came as the High Court of Justice, located adjacent to the Knesset compound, issued its ruling that Edelstein must schedule a parliamentary vote on his replacement by Wednesday. The decision was a victory for the Blue and White party, which had petitioned the court against Edelstein’s actions.
Likud’s Edelstein is expected to be defeated in the vote on the speaker’s job if and when it goes ahead, with Blue and White MK Meir Cohen his likely successor.
With Edelstein’s proposed ouster, Blue and White, which has the support of 61 of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers, is looking to gain control over parliament’s agenda, in part to oversee the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Blue and White is also seeking to advance legislation that would prevent a Knesset member facing criminal charges from forming a government, effectively disqualifying Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicated on three criminal charges.
Later Monday, the Knesset was set to vote on establishing the Arrangements Committee, which oversees the composition of other Knesset committees. Netanyahu’s Likud party initially said all 58 members of its right-wing religious bloc would boycott the Knesset vote on that committee, accusing the rival Blue and White party of “dictatorial, destructive conduct.” Some MKs from the bloc did attend the Knesset plenum as it convened during Monday afternoon, however.