The amendments made to the coronavirus bill on Monday – the aim being to put the bill to the Knesset for a vote in the coming days – are cosmetic changes. While Israelis can breathe a bit more freely knowing that policemen will not be authorized to make forced entries into homes, the bottom line is that the main problems in the bill remain.
The amendments also reduce the duration of emergency regulations from 45 to 30 days. But the fact that the bill authorizes the government to promulgate emergency regulations that critically undermine basic rights (freedom of movement, freedom to demonstrate, the right to privacy, freedom of occupation and more), and to extend them repeatedly, make these rights a dead letter, the “emergency” situation routine and the temporary permanent.
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On paper the Knesset is in the process: If the regulations aren’t approved by a Knesset committee within a week, their validity will expire. But it’s hard to call this parliamentary oversight, or to believe that the committee will have the power to restrain the cabinet. Moreover, we’re talking about retroactive oversight, while the regulations themselves will be formulated without going through any parliamentary filter in advance. The process of putting a law through three votes is not just a bureaucratic exercise. It’s crucial to a democratic regime. A debate in some Knesset committee doesn’t fulfill the need for Knesset oversight of the executive.
The fact that the cabinet prefers that it be authorized to issue emergency regulations, rather than pass laws, is the best proof that it knows that the Knesset won’t rush to approve every draconian restriction it comes up with. That’s because Knesset debates are transparent and the public can hear what every MK says and know what he or she supports. All this influences the accounting that MKs must give the public. This contrasts with discussions by the cabinet.
Even those who accept the logic that during an emergency there’s a place for emergency powers, must understand that the cabinet is always trying to blur the distinction between an emergency and normal routine. It is seeking “continuity” in the restrictions – in other words, the ability to establish an ongoing emergency situation.
Practically speaking, at issue is a package of laws that are meant to be passed together; in addition to the coronavirus bill, there’s a bill that authorizes the Shin Bet security service to track those who may have been exposed to the coronavirus (which has been frozen for now, at the Shin Bet’s request), and a bill that allows the public security minister to prevent prisoners and detainees from meeting with attorneys, to block the spread of the coronavirus in detention facilities. Three anti-democratic bills being submitted as an “emergency package.” Every fair-minded MK for whom the public good is a priority must oppose them.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.