Israel appeared on the verge of a constitutional crisis yesterday as top members of Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud urged their party colleague and parliament speaker to defy a Supreme Court order to hold an election for the prime minister's successor.
After suspending parliamentary activities last week, citing coronavirus, Yuli Edelstein dismissed the court's call to explain his delay in convening the Knesset, or parliament.
It sparked an unprecedented judicial rebuttal, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut ordering him to hold a vote by today and ruling that "the continued refusal to allow the vote in the Knesset plenum on the election of a permanent speaker is undermining the foundations of the democratic process".
Even after that, at least two Likud ministers, including Mr Netanyahu's surrogate interim justice minister, called on Mr Edelstein to defy the order, deeming it a judicial "coup" against elected officials.
Cabinet minister Yariv Levin led the charge, accusing the court of trampling the principle of separation of powers. He said it was creating "anarchy".
Mr Netanyahu has yet to comment, but others in the party, while equally lambasting the high court, called on Mr Edelstein to respect its ruling to avoid a fully fledged constitutional crisis.
The developments marked the apex of a stand-off between Mr Netanyahu's opponents and supporters in the wake of the third inconclusive election in less than a year.
The opposition Blue and White party, backed by a slim majority in the Knesset, said the legislature must function at such a critical time to oversee the government. The party accuses Mr Netanyahu and his caretaker government of carrying out undemocratic measures amid the crisis, and using it as cover to cling to power.