Editorial |

Let Israelis Return to the Country

An El Al plane takes off from Ben Gurion Airport in 2020.
An El Al plane takes off from Ben Gurion Airport in 2020.Credit: Ariel Schalit / AP

The High Court of Justice is scheduled on Thursday morning to hear four petitions against the restrictions on Israelis entering and leaving the country by air. The petitions were filed about two weeks ago, before Haaretz reporter Uri Misgav broke the story of the discrimination practiced by the so-called exceptions committee of Ben-Gurion International Airport, under the direction of the transportation minister cum political bouncer Miri Regev. The disclosures ignited a public firestorm.

The reports strongly suggest that the authorities appointed by the government are guided by biased political considerations, underlining the egregiousness of the decision to close Israel’s gates of entry to Israelis. The issue is not only the discrimination that is aimed at classifying applicants according to their political affiliations, and infringing on basic human rights such as the right of Israelis to be in their country and their homes. The issue is also behavior that could affect citizens’ ability to vote in the election, which is less than three weeks away.

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Some countries allow people who are abroad on Election Day to exercise their right to vote, which is the basis of the contract between the state and its citizens. Israel does not permit this (with the exception of the diplomatic corps), and now it is also preventing Israelis who want to return to exercise this right from doing so.

The attorney general and the State Prosecutor’s Office are on the wrong side of this disagreement. Already in late January the cabinet approved amending the coronavirus emergency regulations to permit not only restrictions on incoming passengers – such as isolating in so-called quarantine hotels and presenting negative test results for the coronavirus – but also reducing the number of incoming flights.

The attorney general and representatives of the State Prosecutor’s Office will appear in the courtroom Thursday to defend the actions of the cabinet and the executive branch. “Even though the measures are unusual and difficult ... [they are] urgent and limited in their duration, based on professional opinions,” they argue. In automatically coming to the defense of the wanton conduct of the cabinet and the unbridled resolutions it passes in Zoom shouting matches that are somehow considered cabinet meetings, Justice Ministry officials are derelict in their duties.

The justices of the Supreme Court (sitting as the High Court of Justice) now have an obligation to recognize what Justice Ministry personnel have failed to understand: While the coronavirus pandemic itself could be considered an act of God, locking the gates of the country to Israelis on the eve of an election is an act of politicians. The High Court must instruct the cabinet to allow flights to Israel to resume in full immediately, while exercising appropriately cautious measures that will permit all Israeli citizens who have been locked out of the country to return to their homes and lives, and to exercise their democratic right to vote in the March 23 election.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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