Deputy AG says Tel Aviv mayor has no authority to reopen culture venues

After Ron Huldai vows to resume events in February for those who have been vaccinated, Raz Nazri warns he ‘is not permitted to make own rules’

A man wears a protective face mask as he walks by the closed Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, on October 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)
A man wears a protective face mask as he walks by the closed Habima Theater in Tel Aviv, on October 20, 2020. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90)

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri warned Sunday evening that Tel Aviv could not open cultural venues to vaccinees if the government does not give its stamp of approval, after the city’s mayor vowed to do so next month.

“As long as the restriction stands, a local authority — large and significant though it may be — is not permitted to make its own rules and form independent regulations for the return of the culture sector,” Nizri wrote in a letter.

Nizri added that the health and culture ministries were currently working with Justice Ministry officials to draft a plan that would allow culture institutions to reopen for those who are protected from infection.

Ron Huldai, mayor of Tel Aviv and head of the newly formed The Israelis party, had said earlier that he would not wait for government approval to reopen cultural institutions in his city, and that he planned to allow theaters and museums to open in February to those who had been fully vaccinated.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“At the beginning of February, I will open all the cultural institutions in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to anyone who has received two vaccines,” Huldai tweeted, referring to the two doses of the inoculation required for full immunity. “We will not wait for the…government that is unable to manage anything.

“There [will be] a large number of vaccinated people with green passports. There is no reason why those who have been vaccinated should not be able to go to the Cameri [theater],” he told the Kan public broadcaster in a subsequent interview.

The argument may be pointless, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last week that the government was working on rolling out “green passports,” which will grant access for those who have been vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19 to certain gatherings and events that are currently banned.

Amid Israel’s aggressive vaccination drive, over 2 million Israelis have already received the first shot of the vaccine, and nearly 225,000 have received the second dose. All Israelis over the age of 45 are eligible to receive the first COVID-19 shot through their health providers starting Sunday.

Huldai, who announced earlier this month that he would be running in the March elections as head of his new party, but has rejected calls to resign from Tel Aviv city hall, accused Netanyahu of using the restrictions for his own political gain.

“We cannot wait for Netanyahu to open [cultural sites] the day before the election,” Huldai charged.

Responding to the announcement, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein of the Likud party threw back the accusation of politicizing the virus response, saying Huldai was “playing politics at the expense of public health.”

Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri, in Jerusalem on February 6, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Edelstein called the move “scandalous” and said it “should turn on a warning light for every citizen to whom public health is important.”

Culture Minister Chili Tropper of Blue and White said that the opening of cultural sites would only be done “in coordination with the Health Ministry, and while carefully maintaining the health of those who come to the shows.”

“I’m happy for any public figure who chooses to elevate the importance of cultural events,” he said, and added, “I suggest everyone put populism aside.”

Highlighting a deal announced last week for financial help to the culture sector, Tropper said: “For many weeks now, the Culture Ministry, together with the directors of Israeli cultural institutions and curators, has been working on an orderly outline for opening up the world of culture, in Tel Aviv and throughout the country, and I am glad that it will be implemented in the near future.”

Tropper and Netanyahu announced the cultural aid package on Friday alongside singer Aviv Gefen. The funds will be given to local authorities that will be obligated to spend it on cultural events.

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