Netanyahu Excludes Justice Minister From Talks on Lifting Lockdown

According to Kahol Lavan, Avi Nissenkorn was disinvited based on his opposition to limiting public protest ■ Vote on extending coronavirus restrictions postponed ■ Arab infection rate sees decline

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Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at a cabinet meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at a cabinet meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 24, 2020. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding preliminary talks on Sunday about possible measures to loosen the lockdown, which will be brought before the cabinet and the coronavirus cabinet for approval on Monday and Tuesday.

The talks are expected to include Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and coronavirus chief Ronni Gamzu.

The Prime Minister’s Office canceled the participation of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn at the last minute. According to Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, Nissenkorn was disinvited based on his vehement opposition to limiting public protest. However, Netanyahu’s Likud party has denied the allegation.

Despite the protestations of opposition lawmakers, the constitutional committee’s chairman, United Torah Judaism lawmaker Yaakov Asher, decided to postpone the vote on the government’s one-week extension of the current coronavirus restrictions, saying that some of the committee’s members had requested that the vote be held on Monday.

Several opposition lawmakers left the debate in protest over the decision.

Ofer Cassif of the Joint List said, “You are turning the committee into a circus and a tool in the hands of the government. We are not statistics.”

Knesset member Eli Avidar of Yisrael Beiteinu similarly derided the decision, saying that “The conduct here in the committee and the fact that you are not bringing this to a vote here today is solid evidence of why we have to go to the High Court.”

Avidar added, “The Israeli economy shouldn’t be stopped, throwing hundreds of thousands of people into unemployment, just so that someone won’t demonstrate in Balfour.” 

During the hearing, Yamina lawmaker Ayelet Shaked demanded that weddings, limited to up to 20 participants, be allowed without regard to the one-kilometer distance regulations, and that someone needed to “grow a pair” and stop enforcing the regulations in these cases.

“Stop ignoring reality, the regulations are stupid, the shitty coalition is yours, fix the regulations,” she said.

A deputy attorney general agreed with Shaked, characterizing the restrictions as illogical. “A situation in which a gathering of 20 people is allowed, but in practice is forbidden due to the kilometer restriction, does not make sense,” he said.

“On the other hand, the current language of the law does not allow it. It needs to be corrected. It is crooked and illogical, but as to how to change it – whether by law, regulations or non-enforcement – we will examine today.”  

In the Arab community, while the numbers point to an apparent decline in infections there, experts on the Arab national health committee are warning against complacency that could lead to a new rise in cases if guidelines aren’t followed.

According to official figures, 40 residents of Arab-majority communities died of the coronavirus last week, compared to a total of 10 deaths during the outbreak’s first wave in the spring.

These numbers do not include cities with mostly mixed populations, meaning the number of recent deaths in the Arab population is likely higher.