Israel's Top Court Set to Hear Petition Against Parliament Speaker's 'Moves to Destroy Democracy'

Petition filed by Gantz's party argues Yuli Edelstein is attempting to prevent his replacement, save Netanyahu from prosecution

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Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has his temperature checked before entering the Israeli parliament building during the coronavirus pandemic, Jerusalem, March 17, 2020.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has his temperature checked before entering the Israeli parliament building during the coronavirus pandemic, Jerusalem, March 17, 2020.Credit: Adina Wallman \ Knesset Spokesperson's Office

Kahol Lavan on Thursday petitioned Israel's High Court to order the Knesset to convene so it can elect a new Knesset speaker and establish a key committee.

Late last week, Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz, who has been tasked with forming the new government, requested to hold a vote for a new Knesset speaker on Monday, but Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein, a senior member of Netanyahu's Likud, refused.

Will Israel's cyber spies let Bibi use coronavirus to kill democracy?Credit: Haaretz

On Wednesday, Edelstein adjourned the Knesset until next Monday, an effective postponement of the parliament’s operations, which the Israeli parliament's legal adviser's office later approved – although it was very critical of the move.

The speaker said that postponment was inevitable until lawmakers from Kahol Lavan and Likud agree on the committees which govern the Knesset’s activities, including a committee that Gantz could use to replace Edelstein as speaker.

But the centrist alliance claims that Edelstein, egged on by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, effectively shut down parliament in order to prevent both a vote to replace him, and the approval of legislation that would disqualify Netanyahu from forming a government while under indictment.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut sits in Israel's High Court, Jerusalem, December 31, 2019.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“Many Israelis understand that we mustn’t sit quietly in the face of moves to destroy democracy” by Edelstein and Netanyahu, Gantz said after filing the petition. It will be heard on Sunday by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, her deputy Hanan Melcer and justices Neal Hendel, Uzi Vogelman and Isaac Amit.

The full Knesset must vote to establish the Arrangements Committee, which governs all parliamentary work between an election and the formation of a new government. The Arrangements Committee appoints all other Knesset committees, some of which are crucial to overseeing the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Kahol Lavan lawmaker Ofer Shelah said on Thursday he had urged his party’s leaders to halt all negotiations with Netanyahu on a unity government until the Knesset opens. “It’s impossible to negotiate with us and talk about a unity government and the need to cope with the coronavirus crisis with one hand while the other is closing the Knesset and destroying Israeli democracy,” he said.

The political maelstrom inside Israel's legislature is intimately linked to controversial emergency steps taken by Israel's caretaker government to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, the High Court struck down an emergency order that gave the Shin Bet security service and Israeli Police powers to track Israelis' cell phones in order to monitor and advert the spread of the virus. The court ruled the measures could not be put in place without parliamentary oversight - which is currently withheld because of the Speaker's move.

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