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Israel: MKs pass bill allowing ministers to enact virus measures without Knesset okay

Lawmakers passed a controversial law in the early hours of Tuesday morning allowing the government to impose coronavirus restrictions immediately and only later seek Knesset approval.

The legislation passed its second and third readings with the support of 29 lawmakers and was opposed by 24, and is valid for one month until August 6.

The government fast-tracked the bill, unveiled Monday afternoon, in order to immediately impose blanket restrictions on gatherings and other rules “intended to halt the spread of the coronavirus.”

Under the new law, the government can put a rule into effect and it would only be rescinded if the Knesset fails to approve the measure or does not vote on it within seven days.

Under the previous rules, government decisions had to be approved by the Knesset’s coronavirus committee or another relevant panel, which can delay implementation by a day or more.

Under the new measure, if a committee refuses to deal with the measure in a timely manner, it moves to the full Knesset plenum for a vote.

Critics said the law removed a key check on the government’s power.

In a debate prior to the vote, opposition MK Mickey Levy of Yesh Atid described its possible passing as a “black day,” saying that Israel was becoming like North Korea.

“Switching the order — the government brings the regulations and only then the Knesset can appeal it? Have you heard of this nonsense? Like North Korea,” he said.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg said the legislation marked a “battle for democracy.”

“The government decides and carries out [regulations] and only afterwards, the Knesset can legislate,” she tweeted.

Researcher Amir Fuchs of the Israel Democracy Institute said the law provided the government with “far too much leeway and would exempt it from the necessary parliamentary oversight.”

“Overcoming COVID-19 is indeed a significant challenge that demands flexibility from the government, yet democratic process and genuine debate in the Knesset are not ‘burdens’ on the cabinet,” Fuchs added in a statement.

“Knesset debates are not only an important tool in safeguarding civil rights, but also in obtaining the public’s trust. Passing this law in such a hasty manner will have the opposite effect and such dramatic decisions must be approved by the Knesset made with full parliamentary oversight.”

The government has been criticized for making hasty decisions on lockdowns and other restrictions, sometimes based on faulty data, and for failing to adequately prepare agencies carrying out the measures or failing to warn residents in time, leading to confusion and complaints of unclear instructions.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also reportedly warned ministers that Israel needs to be able to quickly enact guidelines if they are to be effective in stopping the spread of the coronavirus.

Earlier Monday, the cabinet passed a raft of restrictions to contain the renewed coronavirus outbreak, including limits on crowds in restaurants, synagogues and on public transportation, while also shuttering event halls, cultural venues, swimming pools, gyms, bars and nightclubs.

That decision also states that within 48 hours, the Finance Ministry must introduce a compensation package for those harmed by the new regulations.

Source: TOI Staff