Knesset Passes Bill Allowing Gov't to Bypass Parliament on COVID-19 Regulations

New law allows coronavirus-related cabinet decisions to go into effect before parliamentary approval. The Knesset would then have seven days to review them

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Netanyahu wears a mask at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on May 17, 2020.
Netanyahu wears a mask at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem, on May 17, 2020.Credit: Knesset Spokespersons' Office/

The Israeli government passed a bill Tuesday early morning allowing for decisions made to combat the coronavirus to go into immediate effect – even before they are debated and voted upon in the Knesset.

The bill allows the executive branch to sidestep Knesset committees, which the government says cause delays in implementing its decisions. It has been debated by the Knesset and has passed a first vote on Monday night with the support of 47 MKs, while 34 opposed it. It was then approved in its second and third votes, with with 29 lawmakers voting in favor and 24 against.

According to the bill, while the government decisions would go into effect immediately, relevant Knesset committees will have seven days to debate them, with the option of a three-day extension. If the relevant committee does not approve the government decision within this time frame, it would presented for a Knesset vote. If either a committee or the Knesset decide not to approve a decision – or if no final decision is made within the aforementioned time frame – the decision will be canceled. 

In a speech last Thursday, Netanyahu complained about the need to legislate emergency regulations. "The legal tools obligate us," he said, "it's just unbelievable, passing everything through legislation."

The bill is based on the law expanding the government's powers in combating the coronavirus outbreak. This law – debated today at the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee – allows the government to declare an emergency without the Knesset's approval and publish the regulations.

Dozens of Israelis protested Monday evening in Tel Aviv against the government's decision as part of the so-called Black Flag movement against corruption in government, 

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn addressed the issue Monday and said that "We are required to make daily decisions that need to be implemented. We are seeing the increase in the number of patients who are suffering," he explained. "On the other hand, this requires parliamentary oversight, and the bill says parliamentary oversight will be implemented within seven days." Deputy Attorney General Raz Nazri said at the hearing that "the law gives the power to the parliament, but allows the government flexibility."

Various civil rights and democracy institutes have criticized this decision. The Israeli Democracy Institute wrote that "It would have been more fitting to establish a waiting arrangement for the regulations to come into effect with the prior approval of the committee, along with an order that only in exceptional and urgent cases will the regulations take effect immediately."

The institute also warned that, unlike committees, the Knesset plenum will have difficulty holding thorough discussions of government decisions, and may therefore become a rubber stamp. Similar opinions were published by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Movement for Quality Government in Israel.

The intention to bypass the Knesset has been criticized by members of the opposition as well. "The dictator [Netanyahu] and the deputy dictator [Gantz] want to pass a law that will give the government power to set 'restrictions,' i.e. laws, without the Knesset's approval," tweeted MK Ofer Cassif of the Joint List

Meretz Chairman Nitzan Horowitz claimed that "Netanyahu acts as a dictator and exploits the situation to neutralize Knesset supervision and violate unregulated individual rights." While Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg added that "Not welfare services, not aid packagea - the only thing the government can do is legislate against democracy." Labor Mk Merav Michaeli also criticized the decision and said that " the government has now closed not only the clubs, gyms and event halls, but also the Knesset. "

Dr. Amir Fuchs of the The Israel Democracy Institute defined the bill as underhanded opportunism, saying it was "another show of chaos and the government's lack of control over the coronavirus crisis." According to him, "the democratic process, public legitimacy or real space for Knesset debates is not a burden on the government. In order to gain public confidence, such dramatic decisions must be approved by the Knesset and must be closely monitored by parliament."

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