Mugrabi Cinema
An election meeting outside the Mugrabi Cinema in Tel Aviv in 1955. Photo by GPO
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The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee yesterday declared a "state of emergency" at the cabinet's request. This was not due to an expected outbreak of war or terrorism, but to ensure the state's continued supervision over such issues as ice cream production, show tickets and amniocentesis tests.

Actually, the state of emergency was declared 63 years ago. But the committee extended it for another year, rejecting a request by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel that the extension be limited to six months.

"It's time to get rid of the emergency regulations, which date back to the British Mandate and should have been revoked long ago," said MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz ) afterward. "They are intended to give the cabinet undemocratic powers and enable it to circumvent laws."

The state of emergency was declared in 1948, upon the establishment of the state. Ever since, government ministries have been bypassing legislation by issuing "emergency ordinances," which is possible due to the existence of a state of emergency. Many of these ordinances have nothing to do with state security or any other type of emergency, but ending the state of emergency would immediately annul all of them.

"These ordinances are not needed today," Horowitz said. "Democracy should be strengthened via Knesset legislation. After 63 years, it's time to turn Israel into a more normal state."

Some of the ordinances do serve the defense establishment in its war on terror and infiltrators. For example, the Terror Prevention Ordinance and a law that enables land to be seized in an emergency both depend on the state of emergency being in effect.

A Shin Bet security service officer thus asked the committee to extend the state of emergency, saying it is essential for the war on terror: It enables implementation of laws on matters as varied as arrests and detentions, supervising shipping and regulations relating to people going abroad.

ACRI representatives told the committee there was no justification for the state of emergency to exist at all. They urged the panel to extend it for no more than six months and then discuss it again, so as at least to increase Knesset scrutiny over this issue.

In 1999, the association petitioned the High Court of Justice against the state of emergency. That petition is still pending. But following the court's criticism, the state has been gradually reducing the number of laws and ordinances that depend on a state of emergency.

Over the past year, 45 ordinances have been revoked, leaving 11 laws and 58 ordinances to go. Most of these are in the process of either being revoked or turned into ordinary laws, so that the state of emergency can be ended in the future.

Yesterday's session was planned as a joint debate of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. But only three Knesset members attended: Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman Shaul Mofaz (Kadima ), Avraham Michaeli (Shas ) and Moshe Matalon (Yisrael Beiteinu ). All three supported extending the state of emergency, which the full Knesset will ratify next week.