Most Israelis Aren't Paying Coronavirus Fines, Government Survey Shows

Rights group has petitioned the court to cancel fines, citing 'arbitrary enforcement' and criminalization of 'everyday behavior'

Ido Baum
Ido Baum
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Police enforce coronavirus regulations in Jerusalem, June 2020.
Police enforce coronavirus regulations in Jerusalem, June 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ido Baum
Ido Baum

Most fines issued by the police for violating coronavirus restrictions are not being paid, an analysis by the state Enforcement and Collection Authority shows.

The analysis of payment for a range of fines shows that the rate of payment for coronavirus fines is lower than for marijuana, traffic and other offenses.

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The survey covers coronavirus penalties imposed from March 25 until the end of April, thus including only those for whom the 90-day payment deadline had expired. After that, the amount they owe doubles, unless the violator appeals to the courts.

The analysis compared the payment rate for coronavirus fines against that for traffic and cannabis offenses during the lockdown, and the payment rate for marijuana and traffic fines compared to that rate at the same time a year ago.

It found that only 32% of those cited for coronavirus violations in March paid their fine on time. The rate rose in April, but only marginally, to 38%. In numerical terms, just 10,000 of the 25,000 fines issued for coronavirus offenses were paid on time during the two months.

However, the rate was low largely due to business violators, whose on-time payment rate was only 15%. For individuals, the rate was a much higher 44%.

By comparison, in April 2019, when the current laws on cannabis went into effect, 51% of the people fined for violations paid the penalty on time, while another 17% paid after the deadline. In March 2020, the rate was about the same, or 50%, while in April 2020 it fell to 43%.

For traffic violations, the rate of on-time payment was more than 60% both before and during the coronavirus. Another 20% paid late.

Coronavirus fines can be imposed for failing to wear a mask in public, opening a business in violation of social-distancing rules and, during the lockdown, for being more than 100 meters from your home. Between March 25 and the end of July, the government issued 137,300 fines totaling 57.3 million shekels ($16.9 million).

Most of the fines issued over the months were for not wearing a mask or violations of lockdown orders. The penalties can run as high as 500 shekels for individuals and as high as 5,000 shekels for businesses. Although payment rates were higher, the fine for cannabis violations are considerably higher – 1,000 shekels for a first violation involving personal use and 2,000 for a second violation within five years.

An examination by TheMarker found that about 30 people who have been cited for coronavirus offenses have asked President Reuven Rivlin for a pardon, as they are entitled to do under the law. A spokesman for the president said those requests had been given to the police for examination.

The number who have appealed their fine to the courts isn’t known, but the Enforcement Authority said about 9,000 of those issued had been subsequently canceled by the police, apparently in many cases because the violator appealed the penalty. The police declined to comment.

A week ago, Adalah – The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights asked the High Court of Justice to cancel all fines imposed through the end of June, only after which the offenses became anchored in ordinary law. The government has until the end of the month to respond.

Attorney Sawsan Zaher, who is representing Adalah, argues that the criminal offenses for which the fines were collected were established by emergency regulations of the Israeli penal code, which stipulates that criminal offenses and punishment will be determined solely by law. It seeks an order to have fines that were paid refunded.

“The lack of Knesset oversight has led to a state of arbitrary enforcement and uncertainty as to when a breach of the corona restrictions is or is not an offense. This is especially so when many of the fines were given for natural, everyday behavior that is difficult to define as criminal,” Zaher said in a statement.

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