Ice Cream and Mosquitoes Force Israel to Extend Its State of Emergency

Israel has been in an ongoing state of emergency since its founding in 1948. But many of the country's 'emergency' orders have nothing to do with security

Ice cream on display in Tel Aviv.
Tomer Appelbaum

The two lawmakers who bothered to come on Monday to the debate on extending Israel’s state of emergency regulations didn’t wait very long before deciding to extend the regulations until next August. The primary reason: Government ministries have not managed to this day to update or replace dozens of emergency orders, a large number of them economic and consumer regulations, whose existence are dependent on Israel being in an ongoing state of emergency. Canceling the state of emergency would immediately void all these regulations without leaving anything in their place.

How did the country end up with so many “emergency” orders relating to non-security issues? Apparently over the years many ministries preferred to issue emergency orders to regulate matters instead of going through the complex path of legislation.

Emergency orders still cover

The Order of Government and Law Ordinance – the first piece of legislation passed by the Provisional State Council on the day the state was declared – declared a permanent state of emergency. Since 1996 it is the Basic Law on the Government which grants the Knesset and the cabinet the legal right to declare a special state of emergency. Under the law, the Knesset may, even without a government initiative, declare a state of emergency for up to a year and extend the declaration as often as it wants.

Since 2009, when a joint committee of the Law and Constitution Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee began working to cancel the state of emergency that has prevailed in Israel since its founding, government ministries have canceled dozens of orders, some of them strange and anachronistic, such as the ice cream manufacturing order, the orders on producing pudding and mixing coffee and the order on selling camel meat.

The two MKs who did show for the committee meeting – Avi Dichter (Likud) and Eyal Ben Reuven (Zionist Union) – protested having to continue to be a rubber stamp for continuing the state of emergency because alternatives to the various emergency orders have yet to be arranged. One of the orders, for example, regulates the import and distribution of products that prevent mosquito bites. Another order regulates the purchase and operations of taxi meters, another sets criteria for the use and installation of cable cars, while yet another regulates elevator operations. Other emergency orders that have yet to be canceled deal with diamond inspection and fish handling. “It’s time that as we approach the State of Israel’s 70th anniversary that it no longer be defined as being under a state of emergency,” Dichter said.

From the data presented to the committee, it emerged that government ministries had at first begun working vigorously to limit the emergency orders, but in recent years have slacked off. In 2009 there were 165 emergency orders and nine laws. Although eight years have passed, 21 orders and six laws have not been addressed.

Along with the economic orders, there are a number of laws and orders on security issues, including the order that regulates methods of data encryption in Israel and the law that allows the seizure of lands in an emergency situation. This year the government issued another emergency regulation allowing it to force 50 employees of the nuclear reactor back to work despite the protracted strike and dispute with the workers there. The Defense Ministry representative told the MKs it was working to cancel the orders it is responsible for in the near future, but the other ministries couldn’t say when they would finish their work.

Dichter and Ben Reuven suggested giving the ministries a deadline and proposed that the joint committee hold more frequent sessions until the work is done. But the ministry representatives said they were short on manpower and that plans to update the laws and regulations that appear in these orders would take a considerable amount of time.