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Netanyahu leaves hospital as Israel faces a key vote — and a crisis — over divisive legal changes

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was released from the hospital Monday after an emergency heart procedure and now faces an unprecedented national crisis ahead of parliament’s vote on the first major piece of legislation to remake the country’s justice system.

Demonstrators, many of whom feel the very foundations of their country are being eroded by the government’s plan, stepped up their opposition, blocking a road leading up to parliament.

Businesses shuttered their doors in protest at the vote.

Driven by a governing coalition made up of ultranationalist and ultra-religious parties, the judicial overhaul has divided Israel, testing the delicate social ties that bind the country, rattling the cohesion of its powerful military and repeatedly drawing concern from even its closest ally, the United States.

Efforts to find a last-ditch compromise were underway, with President Isaac Herzog shuttling between the sides, including a meeting at the hospital where Netanyahu was treated, to find an agreement over the way forward.

But it was unclear whether those would result in a compromise ahead of the final vote, expected Monday afternoon.

Protesters banging on drums and blowing horns blocked a road leading to the Knesset, and police used water cannons to push them back.

The protest movement said one of its leaders was arrested.

“The state of Israel stands before destruction and ruin that is being brought upon it by a gang of extremists and kooks. We must go up to Jerusalem today!” one branch of the protest movement called out to demonstrators on social media.

Israeli media reported that a consortium of businesses announced late Sunday that some of their members wouldn’t open on Monday in protest at the government’s plans, leading to big mall chains and some gas stations sealing their doors.

The dramatic events were being watched closely in Washington, from where the Biden administration has frequently spoken out against Netanyahu’s government and its overhaul plan.

In a statement to the news site Axios late Sunday, Biden warned against pushing ahead with the legal changes that were sparking so much division.

“Given the range of threats and challenges confronting Israel right now, it doesn’t make sense for Israeli leaders to rush this — the focus should be on pulling people together and finding consensus,” he told the site.

In a statement to the news site Axios late Sunday, Biden warned against pushing ahead with the legal changes that were sparking so much division.

Biden has also been critical of the government’s steps to deepen Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The massive, sustained democracy protests have shunned mention of Israel’s 56-year occupation of lands the Palestinians seek for their hoped-for independent state, fearing the issue might alienate supporters.

But critics portray this rule over another people as a major stain on Israel’s claim to be a liberal democracy and accuse the protesters of harboring a significant blind spot in their struggle.

Netanyahu’s sudden hospitalization for the implant of a pacemaker added another dizzying twist to an already dramatic series of events that have bitterly divided his country and are certain to shape Israel’s future.

Netanyahu’s doctors said Sunday the procedure had gone smoothly.

In a short video statement from the hospital late Sunday, Netanyahu, 73, said he felt fine and thanked his doctors for his treatment and the public for wishing him well.

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