Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s response to the attorney general’s announcement that Ohana has no authority to refuse to vaccinate prisoners against the coronavirus is no less outrageous than his initial malicious decision not to vaccinate them. Avichai Mendelblit’s deputy for criminal affairs, Amit Merari, sent a letter to Ohana reminding him that the right of prisoners and detainees to receive medical treatment is enshrined in law and in court rulings. The Prison Service, she added, must work to vaccinate the prisoners without delay. The Health Ministry’s deputy director general, Itamar Grotto, also complained that the Prison Service hadn’t yet started vaccinating prisoners, adding that the ministry’s order to vaccinate all people aged 60 and older includes prisoners.
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But Ohana doesn’t care about either Merari or Grotto. His desire to be cruel to the weak overrides the prisoners’ legal right to receive necessary medical treatment. In general, Ohana views the law as a mere recommendation and the attorney general as a mere adviser. In Ohana’s theory of political science, a minister has the right to decide whatever he pleases, even if he thereby endangers human life. And that’s all the more true during an election campaign, when he has to flex his muscles against the weak, on one hand, and against the “dictatorship of the bureaucrats,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it, on the other.
Indeed, Ohana replied to Merari and Grotto like any garden-variety political thug in any authoritarian populist country: “You, and anyone else who’s interested, have until February 4, 2021 to submit your names on one of the candidate slates for the 24th Knesset, and if you are elected to the Knesset and the cabinet, you can certainly do so. Until then, given that responsibility for all agencies subordinate to the Public Security Ministry rests on my shoulders, and that I, not you, will have to give an accounting to the public, my decision will stand.”
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Ohana’s decision not to vaccinate prisoners violates the law. But beyond that, it’s hard to imagine a more blatant display of cruelty for its own sake, which demonstrates not only his hardheartedness, but also his complete lack of understanding of his powers. Ohana is using the prisoners as a political tool. In Merari’s letter, she explained to him that he “has no authority to ‘punish’ a prisoner by depriving him of additional rights beyond those required by his sentence.” Moreover, she wrote, “preventing the administration of vaccines to prisoners and detainees who are in a risk group – and who should be vaccinated in the Health Ministry’s professional opinion – is not within the public security minister’s power.”
But what do the law and governmental procedure have to do with Ohana’s campaign of hatred? “So he said that; who is he?” Ohana said of Mendelblit – the attorney general – in an interview with the public broadcasting station Kan 11. Ohana’s decision is illegal, and a minister who doesn’t obey the law ought to be fired by the prime minister. But meanwhile, the Prison Service and the Health Ministry must work to vaccinate the prisoners immediately.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.