Speaker Edelstein Defies High Court in Historic Confrontation

Current Speaker of the Israeli parliament Yuli Edelstein. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/File)

In an historic confrontation between the legislative and judiciary branches in Israel, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein told the High Court on Monday night that he would hold a vote to choose the next speaker when he deems the time is right, not when the judges say so.

The Court had urged him to schedule a plenary vote by Wednesday on whether he would continue in his position. However, it did not issue a formal ruling compelling him to do so.

Within an hour of receiving Edelstein’s rebuff, the judges answered with a unanimous statement that Edelstein must hold the vote no later than Wednesday. If Edelstein then refuses what appears to be a clear directive of the High Court, Israel could find itself in the middle of a full-blown constitutional crisis.

In his 29-clause response to the Court on Monday night, said: “The court’s intervention into parliamentary proceedings is incorrect. I intend to put [forward] [a vote for the position] of Knesset Speaker and Knesset’s agenda as soon as possible, as the circumstances warrant, from the next few days to no later than the date when the Knesset convenes for the establishment of the government. With all due respect, I will not be able to agree to the ultimatum.”

Edelstein argued that “a reasonable delay” in holding the vote on the Knesset speaker “does not come close to constituting real harm to the fabric of democratic life,” as had been claimed.

As such, Edelstein was standing up not only to the Court, but also to the attorney general and the Knesset’s own legal adviser, who both said that he should follow the Court’s counsel and do it by Wednesday.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut’s response to Edelstein on Monday night contained a sharp rebuke: “The continued refusal to allow the Knesset to vote on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process,” she wrote.

Hayut asserted that his refusal hurts the Knesset’s status as “an independent authority [while also harming] the process of government transition,” thus making it “one of those exceptional cases where this court is required to intervene to prevent a violation of our parliamentary system.”

The Blue and White party, which has been actively seeking Edelstein’s ouster for weeks in order to wrest control of the Knesset from Likud, and now has the votes to accomplish it, issue a statement appealing to the incumbent’s sense of history:

“Yuli, don’t dig in. The Knesset can choose a Knesset speaker, otherwise you’ll forever be remembered in disgrace as someone who was a partner to Netanyahu’s mission to destroy democracy.”

The Likud then said that the Knesset speaker always comes from the party of the prime minister. Mocking Blue and White machinations to force Edelstein out, the Likud suggested that if it wants to replace him, Benny Gantz should form a government and appoint Joint List MK Heba Yazbak (who was nearly disqualified from running in the March election because of her sympathy for terrorists).

Earlier on Monday, Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, both of Likud, backed Edelstein’s stance, and accusing Hayut of trying to take over the state.

“If Chief Justice Hayut wants to put herself above the Knesset, she is invited to arrive at the building with her guards and open the session herself. That way it will be clear we are witnessing a coup,” Levin said.

Updated Monday, March 23, 2020 at 5:49 pm likud comment