In the early hours of Thursday morning, July 23, Israel’s Knesset passed a draconian law that grants the far-right government extensive powers to impose wide-ranging restrictions aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic, but by potentially impinging on basic civil rights and effectively circumventing parliamentary oversight. Forty-eight MKs voted in favor of the legislation, 35 voted against it – among them Joint List lawmakers. The law will take effect on August 10, when an interim coronavirus law approved earlier this month expires. The new law will be in effect until June 30, 2021.
The new law reduces the Knesset’s oversight power and essentially neutralizes its Coronavirus Parliamentary Committee, which in recent days had reversed a series of cabinet-ordered lockdown restrictions on public areas including restaurants and beaches, thereby infuriating far-right Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu had reportedly weighed replacing the committee chair, Likud MK Yifat Shasha-Biton. Instead, the new law deprives her committee of its authority to reverse such orders.
The legislation allows the cabinet to set restrictions on the public, with the Knesset having just 24 hours to approve or reject the regulations before they automatically take effect. In addition, it includes a clause that allows the cabinet to bypass the Knesset and immediately implement measures deemed “urgent,” without specifying the criteria for making that determination. The law continues to allow citizens to protest while specifying several restrictions and authorizes police to prevent citizens who live in locales deemed as virus hotspots from leaving those areas to attend demonstrations.
Hadash MK Ofer Cassif (Joint List) said about the new legislation that it “eliminates everything we worked for and demanded in order to guard against a fascistic and dictatorial government.” “No democracy in the world would agree to abrogate the authority of its own parliament,” Cassif elaborated. The leader of Meretz, MK Nitzan Horowitz, said it was a “disgrace that the parliament had agreed to hand over its powers to the government.” “In democratic countries, draconian and dangerous laws like this one are not passed,” Horowitz said.
With Israel recording nearly 2,000 new coronavirus infections a day in recent days, tens of thousands have participated in protests in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa and throughout the country demanding Netanyahu’s resignation.
Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said transparency around coronavirus policy could suffer, as Cabinet debates were often kept confidential. “The outcome of this is very poor management of the battle against the pandemic, where success is very much dependent on the public’s trust and cooperation,” he said.