Limiting Protests Back in Focus as Netanyahu Gets Conditional Support From Gantz’s Party

Kahol Lavan will back amendment to coronavirus law – forbidding protests more than a kilometer away from one’s home – if Netanyahu’s Likud backpedals from more severe restrictions

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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A demonstration in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, September 26, 2020
A demonstration in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, September 26, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A compromise between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud and Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan could lead to an amendment that will allow limiting protests to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a source in Likud told Haaretz on Monday.

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, followed by the Knesset as a whole, are scheduled to debate and possibly ratify amendments to a law on Tuesday on the handling of the coronavirus pandemic that might bar protesters from traveling more than a kilometer (0.6 miles) from home to attend a protest.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party had demanded significant additional restrictions, including a call to prohibit all demonstrations during the current lockdown to curb a spike in coronavirus infection rates across the country. Now, however, a source in Likud said it would retract its four proposals for more stringent restrictions, and in return Kahol Lavan would lend its support to new restrictions.

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Parliamentary voting will resume after the government failed to complete ratification of the legislation on Friday, and so protests were held Saturday night, as they have been for the past several months on Saturday evenings.

The government has sought to limit the distance protesters can protest to within 1 kilometer from their homes, a restriction which the current version of the law, passed in July, specifically prohibits. The government is now seeking to restrict protesters’ movements.

The amendments will be brought to a vote after Netanyahu retracted his plans to halt the regular demonstrations through emergency regulations. Kahol Lavan vetoed the idea and Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit disqualified it on legal grounds.

Likud had presented four new amendments meant to give the government a free hand in setting restrictions on demonstrations and to make the restrictions even more stringent. They played a major role in the vote being canceled Friday, largely for procedural reasons, after Kahol Lavan lawmakers objected and demanded that the legislation be treated as a new bill, and not as part of a measure that had already passed an initial vote.

But the committee’s legal counsel, Gur Blei, said the proposals could be included in the bill that had already been voted on.

Prior to Yom Kippur, Netanyahu held a series of discussions in which he laid down guidelines required to prevent the spread of the virus as well as a work plan. The deliberations were attended by cabinet members, the directors general of several ministries, the  coronavirus policy czar and other senior officials.

The prime minister has decided that the next stages should include a lockdown, followed by a gradual transition to a routine that takes the presence of the virus into account, culminating in the arrival of a vaccine. Several issues requiring immediate attention were mentioned. The plan is to be presented on Tuesday for more extensive discussion. Its components include:

* An operative plan for the Health Ministry, in keeping with the goal set by the prime minster for dealing with 1,500 seriously ill patients by October 1.

* Setting goals for a gradual exit from the lockdown, discussing the goals and criteria for assessing the situation and consideration of required policies.

* An update on the acquisition of vaccines.

* A situation assessment regarding the acquisition and use of rapid testing.

* Focusing information campaigns on the need to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

* A discussion of the capabilities and digital tools available to fight the pandemic.

* Increasing the means available to law enforcement, with increased fines and sanctions for violating regulations.

* An integrated plan for preparing the school system for operating against the backdrop of the virus.

* A discussion of plans for protecting and assisting the elderly.

The coronavirus cabinet will meet on Wednesday to discuss these points, particularly ways of enforcing the lockdown, criteria for transitioning to the next phases and the means to reduce infection rates.

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