Under cover of the coronavirus, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu locked the country’s gates and turned Transportation Minister Miri Regev into a political selector at Israel’s main entrance. Uri Misgav has reported in Haaretz in recent weeks that contrary to what the public was told, Ben-Gurion Airport hasn’t been closed to everyone. The country’s gates are open above all to those whom Netanyahu seeks to reward, primarily his partners in the rightist bloc. The airport is closed primarily to people who don’t fit the political profiling done by the “exceptions committee,” responsibility for which has been entrusted to Regev’s right-wing hands.
Dozens of passenger flights (mostly operated by the Israeli airlines El Al and Israir) as well as private planes have reportedly landed at Ben-Gurion without let or hindrance. These so-called “rescue flights” were approved by the government to enable the return of Israelis who were stuck abroad but must come back for humanitarian reasons, such as a medical condition, attending a funeral, appearing in court and so forth. The only people allowed on these flights are people approved by the exceptions committee. And what’s an exceptions committee worth if Regev doesn’t control it? That’s how the committee has become mainly a VIP lane for the ultra-Orthodox and other people with government connections.
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This is blatant discrimination, and it continues the politicized policy of selective enforcement of the coronavirus regulations – i.e., a clear bias in favor of the ultra-Orthodox. Beyond the fact that it infringes on personal freedom and has caused suffering to many Israelis, this policy also has other ramifications. The fact that the government is forbidding citizens to enter on the eve of an election deals a mortal blow to the right to vote. And when you consider that exemptions from the ban on entry to Israel have been granted mainly to the Haredim, you realize that this policy has unequivocal electoral implications that favor the pro-Netanyahu bloc.
People who want to leave the country also encounter impossible obstacles, including the astounding demand that they sign a pledge not to return to Israel for the next two months. This is a scandal that’s also hard not to connect to the election and the attempt to create politicized regulations for who can enter and leave the country.
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In response to the news reports and the ensuing public criticism, Regev did an about-face; on Monday, she urged that Ben-Gurion Airport be opened to all Israelis. The first thing is to stop the shameful behavior at Israel’s main gate. But it’s also necessary to investigate it. In the spirit of the times and this government, which prefers to operate far from the public’s supervisory eye, the exceptions committee also operates with no transparency. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit must examine whether it has acted in an unbiased manner and whether Regev exploited her control over the committee to politically manipulate entry to and exit from Israel on the eve of an election.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.