Israeli Ministers Push Forward Bill Enshrining Government's Powers to Impose Coronavirus Restrictions

Coalition-backed legislation would allow the cabinet, for the next 10 months, to enact emergency measures and restrict civilian movements

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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People with masks walk in Jerusalem, June 2020.
People with masks walk in Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

Israel’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted on Tuesday to support a bill that would give the cabinet wide-ranging powers to impose restrictions to combat the coronavirus.

The bill consists of emergency legislation that would remain in effect for 10 months and would authorize the cabinet to declare a state of emergency, impose curfews or lockdowns on individual homes or neighborhoods, halt public transportation, limit the number of staff employed in a workplace and impose fines on violators.

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The approval of legislation by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation means that the governing coalition will support it, at least in some form, when it comes up for a vote in the Knesset.

The committee also approved proposed legislation that would allow the government to employ Shin Bet tracking of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients, which the ministerial coronavirus committee, also dubbed ‘Coronavirus Cabinet,’ voted to support on Monday

However, at the request of Shin Bet security service director Nadav Argaman, the controversial bill was put on hold and is not expected to be brought to a Knesset vote for now.

The emergency reuglations bill limits any declaration of a state of emergency by the cabinet to a 30-day period, but it can be repeatedly renewed. The courts, the Knesset and the president are exempt from the limitations of the law and any regulations that the cabinet approves pursuant to the legislation.

Following criticism of the wide-ranging powers that the legislation confers, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, a lawmaker from Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, made it clear that any regulations issued by virtue of the legislation would require the approval of the Knesset within a week, as would any movement restrictions imposed on a particular neighborhood or town.

The legislation also gives the Knesset the authority to monitor the implementation of the law, including the power to bring the state of emergency to an end.

Amid a recent increase in the daily number of new coronavirus cases, ministers also decided to defer the planned lifting of additional restrictions relating to public transportation, cultural activities and on public gatherings – other than at event venues, which will be allowed, subject to specific conditions, to host up to 250 people. The ministers decided to revisit the restrictions in another week based on future data on the rate of infection.