Israeli Health Ministry Recommends Lifting Restrictions on Protests Regardless of Lockdown

Ministry's position agreed with Netanyahu, as discussions on easing the coronavirus lockdown continue

Ido Efrati
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
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Israelis march against the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.
Israelis march against the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Ido Efrati
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

Israel's Health Ministry officially told the Justice Ministry it opposes extending the emergency order restricting demonstrations, even if there is no immediate easing of the country's coronavirus lockdown. 

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The announcement, which was made in coordination with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office, as first reported by Israel's Army Radio, comes as the Israeli cabinet is expected to discuss possible measures to loosen the lockdown on Monday and Tuesday.

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Sources in both ministries told Haaretz that not allowing protests was an extreme step that could not be justified in light of the improvement in morbidity data.

On Sunday, Netanyahu told ministers behind closed doors he would not be opposed to protests resuming in Jerusalem if the country was starting to reopen, and as long as other coronavirus rules were respected. 

Israelis march against the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.
Israelis march against the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Curbing the demonstrations has been at the forefront of the prime minister's preoccupations during the country second nationwide lockdown, outwardly because it disincentivizes people from following the regulations.

In the last few months, Israel has been experiencing one of the largest protest movements of its history, as anger over Netanyahu's corruption charges were compounded with an economically debilitating coronavirus crisis. Thousands have been massing every Saturday in front of the Prime Minister's official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem.

The government used emergency regulations to prevent Israelis from protesting more than 1,000 meters away from their homes, allegedly to curb the risk of coronavirus spreading - although there was little evidence of major COVID infections at demonstrations. This raised concerns about the coronavirus being used to erode democatic practices

The policy backfired when protest organizers decided to call people to come out at a multitude of spots throughout the country. They claimed as many as 130,000 came out on October 3.

Back to school?

The Health Ministry also said that preschools would be allowed to reopen on Sunday, contradicting a previous statement by Public Health chief Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis.

"We intend to open preschools and kindergartens for ages 0 to 6 on Sunday, unless there is something unusual in the illness and we do not meet the numbers we set," Director General Prof. Itamar Grotto told Army Radio on Monday.

Alroy-Price said on Sunday that the rate of infection did not reach its intended target of 0.8, down from what she assessed was 1 currently, and that she did not see how it would do so by the beginning of next week. "This is the principle: We reopen according to morbidity indices, and not according to dates," she argued.

Health Ministry Director General Prof. Itamar Grotto, at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 2020.
Health Ministry Director General Prof. Itamar Grotto, at the Knesset, Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Adina Valman/Knesset

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