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Israel: Opposition MKs block bill to limit protests and public prayers during pandemic

Opposition lawmakers have challenged the government’s plan to pass legislation allowing it to use emergency powers to significantly curtail the rights of demonstrators to protest and worshippers to gather during the coronavirus pandemic.

With the tighter, ‘hermetic’ lockdown set to go into effect at 2:00 p.m. Friday, Likud MKs are pushing to bring a bill which would expand the government’s emergency powers, enabling authorities to strictly limit prayer groups and public protests during the coronavirus pandemic.

But MKs from the Yesh Atid-Telem, Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Joint Arab List parties have challenged the bill, forcing extended deliberations on the proposal and effectively preventing the government from fast-tracking its passage before the hermetic lockdown goes into effect.

With the Opposition having succeeded in deadlocking the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee past the 11:00 a.m. deadline for convening the Knesset plenum, it appears unlikely the coalition will succeed in passing the bill before the hermit lockdown begins.

The bill was proposed by the Likud in a bid to curb the spread of the coronavirus, granting the government powers it was unable to assume earlier this week when the Coronavirus Cabinet approved the imposition of a stricter “hermetic” lockdown.

While most of the restrictions in the new lockdown will go into effect at 2:00 p.m. Friday as planned, the bans on public protest and prayers in synagogues will not be part of the new lockdown at this time.

Coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar (Likud) excoriated Opposition lawmakers for their efforts to stymie passage of the bill, accusing them of promoting “anarchy” and enabling the virus to spread across Israel.

“The Opposition has decided to prevent us from passing the law banning protests during the lockdown. After 61 people died yesterday and some 7,500 people were diagnosed with the coronavirus, the Opposition is continuing to promote anarchy through protests across the country so that the virus will continue to spread. We cannot enforce the lockdown in the coming days. The pandemic will rage out of control.”

Earlier on Friday, MK Yaakov Asher (United Torah Judaism), the chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, succeeded in watering down the bill, allowing the government to severely restrict rather than completely ban all protests.

Source: Arutz Sheva