Israel may be on the brink of a constitutional crisis as the speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein has vowed to defy a High Court order that must allow Members of the Knesset hold a vote on his replacement.
This follows as Edelstein, a Likud member, refused to allow the Knesset plenum to convene to vote on both electing a new speaker and establishment of the Arrangements Committee, which determines which parliamentary committees will be formed. At first, Edelstein argued the freeze was due to safety precautions amid the outbreak of coronavirus, but later explained it was supposed to force Likud and Blue and White to compromise in unity talks.
Critics said the decision by Edelstein amounted to an illegal shuttering of parliament in an attempt to improve the Likud’s party leverage in the coalition talks while others believe it was part of an attempt to prevent Benny Gantz, de-facto leader of the opposition, from assuming control of the Knesset’s agenda.
Last night, High Court justices ruled against Edelstein’s decision and ordered him to hold a vote in the Knesset by Wednesday. The court’s president, Justice Esther Hayut wrote in her indictment that “the continued refusal to allow the Knesset to vote on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process,” calling Edelstein’s efforts to delay the vote unjustified and undemocratic.
Edelstein has accused the court of interfering in legislature business and said he would not comply with its “ultimatum”. Instead of holding the vote tomorrow, Edelstein said he will only schedule a vote “when the political situation becomes clear”.
Other Likud Ministers including Tourism Minister Yarive Levin and Justice Minister Amir Ohana urged Edelstein to defy the court’s attempt to force him to hold the vote. Ohana tweeted yesterday: “If I were the Knesset speaker, I would reply: No.”
However, some senior Likud members have called for the party to accept the court’s ruling including Minister Ze’ev Elkin who said that although he thinks the court’s involvement “was not legitimate, this sensitive period is not the time to have a crisis between the branches of government”. Elkin argued that there had never been a Knesset speaker from the opposition, and that if one is chosen, “the implication is that a unity government cannot be formed.”
The vote would likely involve Edelstein being replaced as Speaker of the Knesset. The alliance of 61 MKs led by head of the Blue and White Party Benny Gantz, is set to replace him with Gantz loyalist Meir Cohen for the position of speaker. This would effectively give the Blue and White control of the parliamentary agenda.
If Edelstein defies the court’s decision, Israel would be plunged into a constitutional crisis.
In an interview with KAN Radio Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch warned:
“The implications of his refusal to accept the High Court of Justice’s ruling means utter chaos, it means breaking the basic frameworks of the democratic regime”.
This political unrest takes place in the midst of a worsening coronavirus crisis that has Israeli citizens unable to leave their homes. The number of those infected in Israel has today reached a total of 1,656, an increase of 214 from the previous night.