Israel Used Unusual Provision to Extend COVID Restrictions on Protests

By law, new restrictions go into effect only 24 hours after their approval, which would have allowed demos during this time frame. But the gov't dubbed the need to impose restrictions immediately 'urgent'

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Anti-gov't protesters in Jerusalem, October 8, 2020.
Anti-gov't protesters in Jerusalem, October 8, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

The Israeli government on Wednesday made use of a special provision of the coronavirus law to enable restrictions on protests to continue without pause, in a move that some critics have termed illegal.

Normally, any new restrictions take effect only 24 hours after they are approved. Since the protest restrictions expire after seven days unless they are renewed, the technically counts as a new restriction. But a special provision of the law enables new restrictions to take effect immediately if the need is “urgent.”

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The 24-hour delay is meant to give the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee a chance to convene and vote to overturn restrictions approved by the cabinet before they take effect. The committee can also overturn regulations even after they have taken effect.

But in this case, the committee announced even before the cabinet vote on Wednesday that it would meet to review the protest restrictions only on Sunday.

Under the cabinet’s decision, people will be barred from demonstrating more than a kilometer from their homes for another week. In addition, no more than 20 people can attend a given , and they must stay two meters apart. But Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute argues that applying the “urgency” provision to the protest restrictions was illegal.

“Urgency can be an unexpected situation, or a situation in which the Knesset committee can’t be convened in that timeframe, or if there was a significant rise in incidence of the virus,” he said. “But incidence of the virus isn’t rising and nothing dramatic happened yesterday.

“The cabinet knew exactly when the regulations expired, and it could have renewed them a day or two earlier,” he added. “They didn’t do that, but waited until the last moment. Thus the ‘urgency’ here is ridiculous.”

When the coronavirus law was approved several weeks ago, Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri stressed the importance of parliamentary oversight of regulations approved by the cabinet and blasted two Likud MKs, Shlomo Karhi and Amit Halevi, for proposing that the cabinet be allowed to enact regulations without Knesset approval.

“I’m astonished that members of Knesset are asking for such a thing,” he said. “As members of parliament, you ought to insist on the Knesset’s right to have the last word.”

It’s the cabinet’s job to set policy, he added, “but it’s still our job to make sure that the Knesset doesn’t disappear.”

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