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Solution to Israel’s dubious coronavirus regulations is not to officially legalize them

An old rule of thumb says that the more a person defends himself, the more guilty he probably feels. It’s no wonder then that both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his alternate, Benny Gantz, rushed to defend at length new proposed legislation to grant “special authority for contending with the coronavirus pandemic.”

“It’s important for me to dispel several fake news items that have appeared in the media,” announced Netanyahu at the opening of a meeting of Likud legislators. “I’ve just discussed individual rights and privacy protection with the public security minister, and we’ve agreed unequivocally not to allow the police to barge into the homes of citizens without a warrant. This will not happen.” Fake news? In the media? Quite the opposite. The clause enabling police officers to enter homes under the guise of the coronavirus crisis appears in black and white in the bill, available for all to see on the Justice Ministry’s website.

It’s not Channel 12 newscaster Yonit Levy or Haaretz, heaven forbid, but rather Clause 12d (3) of the bill that states that the government wants the police to have the right to enter premises, including residential ones, for monitoring and enforcement in the campaign against the virus. It seems the person who framed the law, writing in the name of Netanyahu and Gantz, who are now playing innocent, was already aware of this problem. Indeed, the explanation provided for this provision states that “considering the extent of harm caused by entering any place, including a residence, it is suggested that the government be permitted to decide that this authority will not be given to anyone other than a police officer.”

Netanyahu stressed at the Likud meeting: “We will find the proper balance between the need to enforce isolation guidelines and the need to protect the individual rights and privacy of Israel’s citizens.… We’re aware of the fact that some people believe we will upset this balance. We haven’t done so up until now and we will not do so in the future.” This statement totally ignores the fact that the bill and the government’s intent are what provoked justified opposition to it.

Netanyahu would rather keep blaming the public for inventing such concerns, instead of admitting that there is a problem or that a mistake was made.

One can only hope that his promise that his government would not implant any sensors in children (an amazing affair in and of itself) is more credible.

In perfect unison, as befits a pair of interchangeable partners, Gantz also tried, on his Twitter account, to make the case that this bill is totally democratic. His campaign banner vowing to protect individual rights was apparently placed in the same drawer as the one promising not to join a person facing a criminal indictment. “I’d like to stress a few points and to clear up some issues regarding the new legislation dealing with coronavirus-related emergency regulations,” he tweeted, using the same minimizing rhetoric, trying to send the message that the problem is really just about the nation collectively struggling with its reading comprehension.

At least Gantz didn’t try to hide the fact that the fault lies with the law, not with “the media,” when he stated that “policemen would not be able to enter homes arbitrarily and that the issue “will be re-examined, with new, proportionate rules formulated.” It’s just not clear why an alternate prime minister, with a justice minister who’s senior member of his party, is in a situation in which he needs to “re-examine” laws submitted by his own alternate government.

It’s good that Kahol Lavan and Likud realized that the bill went too far, but it’s concerning to see a confused government declaring it will change its own draconian law because it didn’t realize what it contained.

So, who’s to blame for the new bill’s contents? Sources in Kahol Lavan had a clear answer when talking to Haaretz: Government officials.

In wake of the mess, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn said his ministry would promulgate a new rule, by which any extraordinary legislation would be presented to him before being submitted. Kahol Lavan also promises that changes will be made to “significantly soften” the bill’s final version.

However, beyond Kahol Lavan’s apparent difficulty of adjusting to the fact that it is now the government, not the peanut gallery, the main problem is not the type of legislation. The main problem appears in another part of Gantz’s tweet.

“The new law will immeasurably improve the current situation,” he tweeted. “There will be monitoring by the Knesset with restrictions on the government’s authority. What is permitted or prohibited will become very clear.” It’s true that ordinary legislation is always procedurally preferable, taking the “high road,” which includes proper parliamentary oversight. It’s true that the government has failed at this since the outbreak of the crisis. Yet, odious elements that were included in emergency regulations should not be approved now through ordinary legislation. These elements should be repealed.

In other words, the problem is with the policy itself, not with the legislative wrappings in which it’s presented to us. Moreover, the proposed law in this case is an unsuccessful copy-paste version of the emergency regulations, devoid of any improvements.

The problem is that the state deems it reasonable to authorize the police to enter people’s houses at will in order to enforce coronavirus regulations with force. There is no Israeli citizen who is unfamiliar with the destructive tendencies of the police to end up being involved in tragic incidents. Overshadowing all this are questionable decrees allowing the Shin Bet security service to track us, along with other rules that impinge on individual liberties, all serving as dangerous precedents.

The bill may mention limiting the scope of these decrees, but does not set criteria for increasing or decreasing enforcement based on morbidity rates, leaving an opening for the government to decide on own how long the “emergency situation” will go on. At this rate, it might last forever. That’s long enough to warrant meticulous scrutiny of every single clause of the bill.

Original: HAARETZ – Noa Landau