Knesset Speaker Resigns, Subverts High Court Ruling to Hold Vote on His Replacement

Israel's Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein resigned Wednesday, following a High Court ruling that he must allow a vote on his replacement by Wednesday.

Edelstein charged that "The High Court's decision undercuts the foundations of democracy," in his resignation speech. The Knesset legal adviser, Eyal Yinon, notified the High Court that the Knesset speaker refused to uphold the court's ruling and hold the vote on Wednesday.

According to Knesset protocols, Edelstein's resignation will come into effect within 48 hours. The Knesset won’t be able to vote on a new Knesset speaker until then, and Edelstein said that the Knesset will not be able to convene for a vote until Monday. Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan is looking into ways to circumvent the protocols and appoint an acting Knesset speaker.

By resigning, Edelstein achieves two things: First, in the struggle for the independence of the Knesset, he will not allow the judge to determine the Knesset agenda. Second, by resigning he shortens the amount of time that the center-left bloc has to pass legislation barring Netanyahu from serving as prime minister while under indictment before Gantz's mandate to form a government expires.

Following Edelstein's announcement, chairman of the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, attorney Eliad Shraga said that the "Knesset speaker did an awful thing by parlaying the Knesset, just to buy himself another 48 hours. We are now turning the High Court, asking to promote additional measure. This is a black day for democracy."

Shortly after Edelstein announced his resignation, a motorcade of hundreds vehicles began making its way toward the Knesset in protest. Demonstrators are calling on the leaders of Kahol Lavan to act to convene the Knesset to vote on a new Knesset speaker before the end of the day. The protesters say they are prepared to stay outside the Knesset all day if necessary.

"As someone who paid a personal price, and was jailed for years in order to live in the State of Israel, I don't need to explain myself. As a Zionist Jewish democrat who has fought against backward regimes and as the Knesset speaker I won't allow Israel to deteriorate into anarchy," Edelstein said in his resignation speech.

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Edelstein said the High Court ruling ordering him to convene the parliament by Wednesday and hold a vote to elect a new speaker "isn't based on the law, but on a radical unilateral interpretation."

"The High Court's decision contradicts the Knesset protocols and is destroying the Knesset's operation and constitutes a blatant and vile meddling of the judicial system in matters which are under the purview of the legislature. This decision causes unprecedented damage to the Knesset and the people's sovereignty," Edelstein added. He added that the decision was “grave and wrong” and “expresses a dangerous cultural decline.”

"I won’t take part in a civil war, and will act in accordance with David Ben-Gurion's legacy. Israeli citizens currently need a unity government. These days a pandemic endangers us from the outside, while internal rifts are destroying us from the inside. We all have to rise above this and unite. I hereby resign from my role as Knesset speaker.”

Meretz lawmaker Tamar Zandberg said that "Edelstein's resignation doesn't overturn the High Court's ruling. If his conscience doesn’t allow him to uphold the ruling, he did the right thing by resigning, but the ruling doesn’t relate to him as a citizen, but as the Knesset speaker. Edelstein cannot violate the court's ruling by resigning and the Knesset must uphold it."

President Reuven Rivlin and Speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset in Jerusalem, March 17, 2020.גדעון שרון / דובר

Likud lawmaker Shlomo Karhi said Edelstein's decision to resign is "unfortunate because he chairs the legislature. For the sake of statesmanship and a functioning regime, he should have told the High Court it has no authority to decide over the Knesset. Yuli, you can still retract your resignation, otherwise we’ll all pay a hefty price in the future."

On Monday, Israel's High Court of Justice ruled that Edelstein must convene the parliament by Wednesday to hold a vote on electing a new speaker after he refused to heed a request to do so.

"Interference here is necessary," the justices wrote in their ruling, "for without the democratic life fabric and the foundations of our parliamentary system would be compromised."

The court directed Edelstein to allow the Knesset to discuss choosing a new speaker by Wednesday after several petitions were filed by Benny Gantz's party and political groups.

These came in response to Edelstein's refusal to convene the parliament to address the issue. According to the Edelstein, electing a new speaker would hinder efforts by Likud and Kahol Lavan to form a unity government.