Corona Law in Israel’s Parliament: Netanyahu prevails

Corona Law in Israel's Parliament: Netanyahu prevails

A new law in Israel gives the government powers to act in the corona crisis without parliamentary approval. That fuels the protests.

The demonstrators who chained themselves to the entrance to the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem on Wednesday morning call the controversial “Corona Law” “empowerment law”. With their action they wanted to prevent the vote on it. But on Wednesday evening the law was approved by the Knesset.

Israel is in crisis mode. The second wave of the coronavirus has brought Israel into a severe economic crisis. At the same time there is a wave of protests across the country. Thousands regularly demonstrate in front of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. Massive protests are also taking place in Tel Aviv and in many other cities across the country. They are directed against the government’s fiscal policy, but many of the protesters are also demanding Netanyahu’s resignation on charges of three corruption cases. They also accuse him of undermining democracy. They see the enacted law as a further step on the way there.

The Corona Act had already provisionally entered into force on July 7, but initially for a month. The revised law will enter into force on August 10 and will be valid until the end of June 2021. The previous version allowed the government to implement corona control measures without a vote in parliament. The Knesset could only lift them after the fact. This passage was slightly alleviated by the new law.

In the revised form of the law, the measures enacted do not come into force until 24 hours after the decree, until then the Knesset can overturn the law. If no agreement is reached during this period, the Knesset must subsequently approve the law within a week or two. In addition, however, the government can declare a state of emergency for 28 days without the Knesset’s consent – only the extension of the state of emergency requires the prior consent of the Knesset.

Despite the slight changes, critics accuse the government of undermining parliamentary control over government decisions. In particular, they accuse Netanyahu of wanting to disempower the Corona Committee. This committee, chaired by Netanyahu’s party colleague Yifat Sasha-Biton, has reversed several measures taken by the government over the past week.

Sasha Biton, for example, contested that the regulations were not decided on the basis of epidemiological data and waved back the closure of restaurants, beaches and swimming pools a few hours after it came into force. Ministry of Health data show that most of the second wave infections – besides those at home – occurred at events, in schools, and at religious institutions. Few people got infected on the beach, in swimming pools or in restaurants. Sasha Biton has thus caused Netanyahu’s anger. Under the law passed Wednesday evening, the Corona Committee has only an advisory role.

The Israeli Democratic Institute warns that the new “Corona Law” will sow even more confusion and deepen growing mistrust among the public if it has to deal with constantly changing directives. In addition, “regulations should only be allowed to enter into force once they have been approved by the Knesset”.

Under pressure from the coalition partners of the Blue and White Alliance, the law allows Israelis to continue demonstrating with restrictions. Protests outside Netanyahu’s residence in Balfour have been announced for Thursday evening. They could be the biggest so far.

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