Health minister: Law limiting protests, prayers will be advanced Tuesday

Government has reportedly dropped plan to use emergency regulations to curb demonstrations, amid opposition by Blue and White, attorney general

Israeli protesters gather during a demonstration amid a second lockdown in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2020, to protest the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)
Israeli protesters gather during a demonstration amid a second lockdown in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem, on September 26, 2020, to protest the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein on Saturday said the government would finalize legislation banning large demonstrations on Tuesday, as thousands rallied against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Plans by the government to limit the rallies, as well as public prayers, fell through Friday after lawmakers failed to agree on the legislation before the start of Shabbat. The legislation would have limited protests to within a kilometer of an individual’s home, and in groups of no more than 20 people.

As a result, mass demonstrations against Netanyahu’s corruption cases and his handling of the pandemic were held on Saturday night, even as the country was placed under tight lockdown rules from Friday afternoon to curb the coronavirus rates.

Edelstein tweeted against the protesters, calling them virus spreaders and saying their activities would soon be curtailed.

“Don’t follow the protesters’ example tonight. They took advantage of the foot-dragging at the Knesset to endanger their health and the health of those around them,” he wrote. “On Tuesday we will finish legislating and the protests will be limited.”

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein holds a press conference during his visit at the Assuta hospital in Ashdod on August 20, 2020. (Flash90)

Lawmakers rushed the limits on protest and prayer through its first reading late Thursday and sent the measure to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where it languished when the lockdown went into effect on Friday and the panel ceased its discussions for the day.

The Knesset won’t be able to reconvene for the final second and third votes until Tuesday, due to the Yom Kippur holiday which begins on Sunday night and ends Monday night.

Edelstein said on Friday that he was proposing emergency regulations to bypass the Knesset and to limit public gatherings. Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit swiftly voiced their opposition to the move, with the Blue and White chief saying his party would not support it.

According to a Haaretz report on Saturday night, the government has dropped the emergency regulations idea as a result of the opposition by Blue and White and the top legal officials.

“Blue and White insists that the law be approved in the framework of a general lockdown and in no way will it allow [the government] to hurt the right to protest. Certainly not for an extended period. We won’t give the government unbalanced power. We won’t adopt emergency regulations while there is a functioning Knesset,” Gantz told the Kan public broadcaster on Saturday.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn (Blue and White) on Saturday night defended the anti-Netanyahu protesters, while appearing to blame the coronavirus pandemic in the ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis.

Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White Party attends an election campaign event in Shefayim, on July 14, 2019. Gili Yaari/Flash90)

“The protests are not the reason for the coronavirus. The reason for the coronavirus right now is an incident that by the way began in the Haredi and Arab communities but is now in the entire country,” he told Channel 12.

Both communities have seen large outbreaks of the virus, which has been attributed in part to its densely populated locales and large families.

Facing backlash over his remarks, Nissenkorn tweeted: “I have always respected every human being as they are. If I was misunderstood, I addressed the fact that the hotspots two weeks ago were specific cities and are now in the entire country. It’s a shame there are those who are trying to warp my intentions.”

The lawmakers’ delay also means that limits on public prayer — which would have shut synagogues with the exception of Yom Kippur — won’t be passed before the holiday on Sunday night.

Hebrew-language media reports suggested that synagogues would in any case operate during Yom Kippur under the previous restrictions in place for the holiday of Rosh Hashanah.

Top ultra-Orthodox rabbis of the Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) streams have urged their followers to pray outdoors in small groups and heed the social distancing and mask-wearing rules, but it remained unclear whether some Hasidic groups would buck the instructions and hold mass prayers.

On Saturday, the Health Ministry reported 8,315 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed on Friday — a new single-day record. Updated numbers also showed that there had been 29 deaths since Friday afternoon, 16 of which occurred so far on Saturday, bringing the death toll up to 1,441.

As of Saturday evening, Israel had a total of 227,1006 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic, with 68,122 active cases.


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