As Debate Heats Up, Gantz Says Coronavirus Emergency Bill Must Be Amended or Dropped

Netanyahu assures public that extended powers do not include police entering homes without a warrant to enforce quarantine

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Benny Gantz during a government meeting, Jerusalem, May 31, 2020.
Benny Gantz during a government meeting, Jerusalem, May 31, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said on Monday that controversial draft legislation supported by the government to extend the state of emergency declared due to the coronavirus outbreak will be amended or won't be advanced at all.

LISTEN: High priests, holy smoke and cannabis in the TempleCredit: Haaretz

Gantz, who will take over as prime minister in 18 months according to a power-sharing agreement signed with former rival Benjamin Netanyahu, confirmed on social media that "the right to demonstrate will be maintained, and the courts and the Knesset will remain independent and open."

Gantz also insisted that the law will strike a balance between emergency regulations and individual rights, responding to criticism over proposed measures: "Police officers will not be able to break into homes arbitrarily. The matter will be reexamined and proportionate rules will be formulated."

This echoed statements made by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn on Sunday. The former union boss, a fellow lawmaker from Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party, also instructed his ministry to examine ways of increasing parliamentary supervision of government activity in the event of a declaration of a state of emergency.

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

The legislation being advanced by the government would allow the government to approve regulations to restrict citizens’ freedom of movement anytime within the next ten months.

In a public address, Netanyahu said that he has "just spoken to the minister of public security and we agreed unequivocally that we will not allow police to break into homes … without a warrant." Netanyahu said he understands the public concerns over keeping the balance between enforcing quarantine and safeguarding rights, and vowed to maintain that balance.

Netanyahu also referred to a statement of his from May 4 about monitoring children: "This is an opportunity to dispel this amazing conspiracy theory that I or someone else intend … to plant sensors in children or adults.

"We were talking about a kid's toy," added the premier, "a voluntary bracelet which each person can choose whether to put on and maintain distance. It hasn't been developed yet and I don't know if it will."

Netanyahu concluded by saying the government does not intend to paralyze state institutions. "We didn't do it until now, and at the height of the coronavirus [pandemic] we managed to maintain operation of all those institutions."

On Sunday, the Prime Minister’s Office extended until Thursday the period during which the public can submit opposition to the draft bill. The memorandum was distributed last Thursday, and the office's legal adviser, Shlomit Barnea-Fargo, decided that public opposition could be submitted only until Monday. The period was extended at the request of Nissenkorn, who in principle supports advancing the legislation.

A quasi-constitutional Basic Law on Government allows emergency regulations to be imposed for a period of only three months, with special legislation required to extend them.

But Prime Minister Netanyahu is seeking to avoid turning the regulations into law, and has decided instead to seek a way to approve new regulations or extend the previous rules through March 2021, without the need to pass new legislation every three months.

Under the process Netanyahu seeks to adopt, the government could impose a closure or curfew on entire neighborhoods and halt public transportation, restrict the number of employees permitted on the premises of their workplaces and levy fines on anyone who violates these orders.

The bill would not permit emergency rules to be enforced against the courts, the Knesset or the president, and wowers will be limited, and we will spell out precisely what is permitted and what is forbidden … During a state of emergency the country must protect itself, but we will make sure to preserve civil rights and oversight even during a state of emergency.”

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