Right mimics left in convoy protest to Knesset, in support of Edelstein
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Right mimics left in convoy protest to Knesset, in support of Edelstein

Dozens demonstrate against High Court’s ‘interference’ after top legal body ordered speaker to hold vote on his replacement by Wednesday

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Right Wing activists protest against the Supreme Court and in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Right Wing activists protest against the Supreme Court and in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A motor convoy of dozens of right-wing activists departed from central Israel on Tuesday, driving all the way to the Supreme Court in Jerusalem to protest against the top-legal body’s ruling compelling Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to hold a vote on his replacement.

The protest format was a replica of the one employed by hundreds of left-wing demonstrators who, twice in the last week, have driven to Jerusalem in a convoy of cars waving black flags to voice support for the High Court while blasting Likud efforts to shutter the Knesset.

Tuesday’s demonstration was organized by the right-wing Im Tirzu group, which blasted the “interference” of the “dictatorial” High Court in a statement on the protest. On Monday, the top legal body ruled against Edelstein’s effort to block a vote that would likely see him replaced and called the Likud lawmaker’s delaying tactics unjustified and anti-democratic.

“The High Court is intervening in the work of the Knesset,” some of the protesters chanted. “Shame! We voted for Bibi, not [High Court chief Justice] Esther Hayut.”

Right Wing activists protest against the Supreme Court and in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, outside the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, March 24, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The demonstrators also called on Edelstein not to heed the High Court decision, which ordered him to hold a vote by Wednesday.

“We’ll burn down the entire country before we let you steal it,” yelled a protester in front of the Supreme Court building quoted by the Haaretz newspaper. She called the top judges “a bunch of leftists.”

Later Tuesday, the so-called black-flag left-wing protesters were slated to hold additional demonstrations of their own in front of the homes of Likud MKs Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan as well as Blue and White lawmakers Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel.

The two Likud MKS have been among the few in their party who have called for respecting the High Court decision regarding Edelstein, even if they don’t agree with it. The pair of Blue and White lawmakers have objected to a minority government backed by the Joint List, which many of the black-flag protesters have argued is a better choice than seeing the centrist alliance sitting in a government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under indictment on corruption charges.

The High Court issued its binding ruling Monday night barely an hour after Edelstein rebuffed the justices’ gentler directive earlier in the day calling on him to hold a vote on a new speaker by Wednesday.

Were Edelstein to now defy the court ruling, Israel would be plunged into a constitutional crisis.

Edelstein would likely lose his job in a vote on Knesset speaker, since an alliance of 61 MKs led by Netanyahu’s rival Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party, is set to back Gantz loyalist Meir Cohen for the post. Blue and White would then gain control of the parliamentary agenda.

“The continued refusal to allow the Knesset to vote on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process,” the court’s president, Justice Esther Hayut, wrote in a damning indictment of Edelstein’s behavior.

“It clearly harms the status of the Knesset as an independent authority [while also harming] the process of government transition, the more so as the days pass since the inauguration of the 23rd Knesset.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R), Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut (C) and Benny Gantz (L), leader of the Blue and White party, attend a memorial ceremony for late president Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on September 19, 2019. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

“Therefore,” she went on, “there is no escaping the conclusion that in the circumstances created, this is one of those exceptional cases where this court is required to intervene to prevent a violation of our parliamentary system.”

The Knesset “is not a cheerleader for the government,” she wrote, dismissing Edelstein’s argument that the election of a permanent speaker required clarity over the nature of the incoming government. The reverse was true, she noted. “The Knesset is sovereign.”

Gantz was tasked last week by President Reuven Rivlin with forming Israel’s next government, after 61 of the 120 MKs backed him for the post. But not all of those 61 — 15 of whom are from the Joint List and seven of whom are from the hawkish Yisrael Beytenu — would necessarily agree to sit together in a coalition, and thus neither Gantz nor Netanyahu has a clear path to a majority.

Blue and White is also seeking to advance legislation that would bar a Knesset member facing criminal charges from forming a government, effectively disqualifying Netanyahu.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein signing an official response to the High Court over holding a vote to replace him, March 23, 2020. (Courtesy)
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