Israel's Blatantly Illegal Public Security Minister

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Amir Ohana speaks at a ceremony at Northern Police District headquarters, January 4, 2021.
Amir Ohana speaks at a ceremony at Northern Police District headquarters, January 4, 2021. Credit: Gil Eliahu

The illegal directive from Public Security Minister Amir Ohana not to vaccinate prisoners was an outrage even for Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.

As if disobeying a blatantly illegal military order, Mendelblit instructed the prison service to immediately begin vaccinating prisoners 60 and over, and to ignore the shameful instructions from Ohana – a directive that Mendelblit says was issued without any authority. In other words, the attorney general ordered the prison service to refuse to carry out the instructions of the minister in charge of it.

In a letter Friday, Mendelblit wrote that, to start giving the vaccinations, the prison service must not wait for the hearings on petitions against Ohana’s criminal decision to begin at the High Court of Justice. “I would like to stress that the obligation to act according to the law exists at all times and does not depend on a petition under consideration,” Mendelblit wrote, acting so that the government does not violate the law because of a dubious directive from a minister intoxicated with power.

It’s clear that Mendelblit is going far out of his way not just so the prison service launches the vaccination process, but also to distance the government from any responsibility for Ohana’s decision. He rejected Ohana’s request for separate legal representation in the petitions against his criminal decision.

In his letter, Mendelblit explains that because Ohana did not provide any source of authority for his decision, this is not an exceptional case, one that “could justify the presentation of an additional legal position in court via separate representation.” The message is clear: Ohana’s position does not represent that of the state, and it can’t be defended.

Mendelblit’s feeling of emergency is justified. As of Friday, over 160 prisoners have contracted COVID-19 recently in a number of prisons, and a similar number of prison guards have fallen ill. On Tuesday, the High Court will hear the petitions from prisoners, rights groups and the bar association against Ohana’s decision. President Reuven Rivlin has also spoken out. “Depriving life-saving medical treatment from people in prison … does not live up to our values,” he wrote.

The prison service must refuse to carry out Ohana’s directive and vaccinate the prisoners according to health and other relevant considerations, as the Health Ministry has stated. The new prison commissioner must know that she’s carrying out an illegal order that the attorney general has ruled was issued without authority.

Doctors at the prison service and its chief medical officer, who are only following their minister’s orders, must remember that they are not exempt from responsibility for this injustice. Moreover, according to the oath they took as physicians, they are required to protect the prisoners’ well-being.

Given these circumstances, in a normal country the prime minister would be obligated to immediately fire Ohana, whose criminal behavior endangers lives and makes the country a partner in crime.

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

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