Israel's AG Says Netanyahu Needs Cabinet Approval Before Exporting Vaccines

The prime minister had intended to use surplus vaccine doses as a bargaining chip with other countries

Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Avichai Mandelblit during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem in 2014.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Avichai Mandelblit during a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem in 2014.Credit: Menahem Kahana/Reuters
Judy Maltz
Judy Maltz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot send vaccines to other countries without first consulting the foreign and finance ministries and receiving approval from either the full cabinet or the diplomatic-security cabinet, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit ruled on Monday.

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Last week, after the media reported that Netanyahu planned to send tens of thousands of vaccine doses to other countries on the basis of the National Security Council’s recommendations, Mendelblit asked National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat for clarifications about the plan. In response, Ben-Shabbat announced that the shipments had been put on hold until Mendelblit ruled on the issue.

Based on the council’s recommendations, Netanyahu had decided to send vaccines to Honduras, Guatemala, the Czech Republic and Hungary, among others. All four had either moved their embassies to Jerusalem, promised to do so or promised to open a lower-level diplomatic mission in the city.

“A proper governmental process ought to include consultations with the Foreign Ministry to draft the list of countries, since this is clearly a diplomatic and international issue that is within the Foreign Ministry’s area of operations, and also with the Finance Ministry regarding the budgetary aspects of the contracts,” Mendelblit wrote in the opinion he sent Ben-Shabbat.

Moreover, he added, since the vaccines fall under the Health Ministry’s purview, “The relevant ministry to represent the country in deals with foreign countries is the Health Ministry, and the relevant accountant whose approval is needed for the contract is the Health Ministry’s accountant.”

Any decision to send vaccines abroad also requires legal involvement, “since this is an issue that clearly has legal aspects relating to both contracts with foreign countries and contracts between the state and the vaccine companies, which fall under foreign law rather than Israeli law, as well as tort-related issues that could leave the state financially exposed, and issues relating to the way the contracts are made and the use of state assets,” Mendelblit wrote. The relevant legal adviser for this purpose is the Health Ministry’s legal adviser, he added.

Mendelblit’s queries to Ben-Shabbat were prompted by a letter from attorney Shachar Ben-Meir, who asked the attorney general to look into whether sending vaccines abroad would violate the law governing state assets. Under this law, Ben-Meir wrote, only the cabinet has the power to transfer or sell state assets, and therefore, the prime minister can’t send vaccines to other countries without the cabinet’s approval.

Ben-Meir also wrote that his letter was an effort to exhaust other means of redress before petitioning the High Court of Justice against the shipments.

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