Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein resigns amid row over decision to shut Knesset citing coronavirus crisis

The speaker of Israel’s Knesset has resigned after fierce criticism of his refusal to reopen parliament, which he suspended last week citing a ban of large gatherings while the country tackled the coronavirus.

Yuli Edelstein – a close ally of Benjamin Netanyahu in the ruling Likud party – came under fire as the suspension was decried as an attempt to shield both him and the embattled prime minister.

Opposition politicians accused Edelstein of using anti-democratic measures. Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s chief rival, had planned to gather enough lawmakers to oust Edelstein and elect a new speaker this week.

While Netanyahu still heads an interim administration following an inconclusive 2 March election, Gantz’s Blue and White party, as well as other parliamentarians united against Netanyahu, hold a slim majority of 61 of 120 seats.

Gantz also wanted the Knesset reopened to push through legislation that could end the 70-year-old prime minister’s political career.

In their ruling, the Supreme Court justices said that Edelstein’s conduct was undermining the foundations of democracy and that there was no way to stop the desire of 61 MKs to express the desire of the voters.

In the wake of the ruling, Edelstein attempted to portray the Supreme Court as trying to create a putsch. He received the backing of several government ministers and even the prime minister who thought he should ignore the court’s instructions.

At the start of the Knesset plenary session today Edelstein said, “On Monday the Supreme Court ruled that the Knesset Speaker must call a vote this week on the election of a Speaker for the new Knesset. The Supreme Court’s decision is not based on law but on a one-sided and extreme interpretation.

After continuing to attack the Supreme Court, Edelstein likened himself to Menachem Begin who sought to avoid a civil war in 1948 despite the sinking of the Altalena.

Edelstein said, “In these days when the virus is endangering us externally and we are riven apart from within, we must behave with humanity and raise ourselves up. We must all unite. So for the sake of the State of Israel and to renew the spirit of statehood – I resign from my position as Knesset Speaker. We will pray and strive for better days.”

The Knesset will be left without a Speaker for a week until it convenes next week to elect a new one.

Arab observer

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