Israel has passed law banning mass protests during the coronavirus lockdown. Government opponents have claimed to take advantage of the health crisis to suppress demonstrations calling for Benjamin Netanyahu to step down as prime minister.
The controversial law was passed Wednesday at 4:30 a.m. local time (1:30 a.m. GMT) after a nightly session of the country’s parliament, the Knesset. It allows the government to prevent people from traveling more than 1
Critics say it actually criminalizes weekly rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv where thousands voiced their anger over Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, as well as allegations of alleged corruption, which he denies.
Several hundred people gathered in front of the Knesset on Tuesday to condemn the new laws.
“I think we can see that they are not aimed at stopping the pandemic or the coronavirus, but it is a political restriction to stop and kill the demonstrations against Netanyahu,” said Yaniv Segal, an actor who has been has been unemployed for several months.
“This is an anti-democratic law. It’s just about stopping resistance to a prime minister who is corrupted and accused of many crimes. “
Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party had previously called for the ban on mass protests to remain in place even after the lockdown was lifted, but lawmakers rejected the proposal. The new law can only be applied during a suspension.
After the law was passed, Yair Lapid, the head of the opposition, tweeted: “What’s the next step? Forbid the opposition leader to speak in front of parliament? “
Israel has had some of the highest daily coronavirus infection rates per capita in the world, and a military agency said Tuesday the country’s per capita deaths exceeded the US.
While a spring lockdown has managed to bring infection rates to very low levels, officials say the country reopened too quickly and with few restrictions.
“We weren’t careful. We weren’t careful how we emerged from the last lock. I think we are not doing enough to reduce infections and morbidity, “the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Hezi Levy, told the public broadcaster.
A three-week lockdown this month has forced all non-essential businesses to close and largely shut down the country.
Protest leaders have questioned the science behind the new rules, arguing that outdoor rallies do not pose a significant risk of infection, especially when compared to indoor religious gatherings, which have been identified as hotspots.
Netanyahu’s critics accuse the prime minister, whose government is backed by powerful Jewish ultra-Orthodox politicians, for failing to do enough to restrict religious gatherings. This month, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox mayors, Netanyahu dropped a plan for localized bans that would primarily affect religious groups.
“I’m not saying that I have anything against religious people. Not me, ”said Liri Burak Shavit, 44, a psychologist at the protest on Tuesday. “But we see that most of the corona is in the cities of religious people.
“The religious people didn’t want it to go on. They said, “Bibi, next time we won’t vote for you if you do,” she said. “Then, after a minute, the whole country had to be closed. People are angry, people are angry. “
In response, many deeply religious Israelis believe they are being wrongly attacked, pointing out that ultra-Orthodox communities often live in poor, congested areas where infections can spread quickly.
Israel has registered more than 234,000 infections and 1,516 deaths out of a population of 9 million. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein ruled on Tuesday that the measures would not be completely lifted after three weeks as originally planned.
“There is no way that we can lift all restrictions in 10 days and say that everything is over, everything is fine,” he told public broadcaster Kan. “The opening of the economy and our lives will be gradual and slow.”