Under cover of the fight against the coronavirus and fears of a threatened “second wave,” the Netanyahu-Gantz government is trying to appropriate draconian legislative powers that will deal a mortal blow to human rights. The cabinet is advancing a bill to give itself special authorities as a replacement for existing emergency regulations that are due to expire. This bill would undermine not just fundamental rights, but also the principle of the separation of powers and the basic rules of democracy.
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The emergency regulations, which were hastily enacted when the coronavirus pandemic began, naturally entailed major violations of human rights – freedom of occupation, freedom of movement, personal autonomy, the right to demonstrate, the right to education and freedom of religion and conscience. The Basic Laws put a time limit on emergency regulations for that very reason – so as to give the government these powers only during brief periods of crisis and prevent rights from being severely infringed for longer than the period of immediate necessity.
Apart from the restrictions the public is familiar with from the lockdown period, the bill would allow the government to authorize police officers (and inspectors who aren’t police officers) to enter private homes without a warrant and enforce these restrictions inside them, including by using force. The courts would never declare this constitutional. The government could also create new crimes without the Knesset’s approval. All this violates the foundational idea of democracy and the separation of powers, which is that fundamental issues are supposed to be decided by the legislature rather than the executive, since the Knesset is the public’s most authentic representative. Moreover, the minister in charge of the law would be the prime minister.
The draft bill would authorize the cabinet to promulgate regulations and allow it to continue dictating rules that undermine freedom of movement, the right to demonstrate, freedom of assembly and personal autonomy just as if the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and the Basic Law on Freedom of Occupation had never been enacted, or as if they were irrelevant in the coronavirus era.
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The proposed legislation does set a time limit on regulations that undermine individual rights, but it doesn’t set any criteria for infringing on these rights. It also doesn’t set any criteria for what constitutes a relevant rise or fall in the incidence of illness. Thus it effectively gives the government an opening to decide for itself what constitutes an emergency situation.
This is the behavior of a cynical government that has abandoned all restraints and is trying to accumulate more and more power rather than working to serve the public and protect its rights. This is what a police state looks like. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must make it clear to the cabinet that it may not expropriate power from the Knesset. And Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz must exercise the veto power he received under the coalition agreement to strive to get this destructive legislation shelved.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.