Israel’s Emergency Coronavirus Bill Could Perpetuate Infringement on Human Rights

On the eve of the Shavuot holiday and by the demand of the High Court of Justice and the attorney general, the Israeli government released a memorandum of a bill designed to enshrine into law emergency regulations to battle the coronavirus pandemic. The purpose of such legislation is to allow the legislature to curtail our liberties and oversee the government's actions, but the memorandum fails to do the latter.   

The government has invited responses on the memorandum by Monday initially, a deadline that seems like underhanded opportunism. It was later changed to Thursday at the request of Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Kahol Lavan.

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It is unclear whether relevant bodies were consulted before the memorandum was published, like the Israel Medical Association or the Israeli Association of Public Health Physicians. The explanation for the memorandum flies the flag for human rights that have been at risk of infringement during Israel's struggle to stem the coronavirus. But it is the very existence of this legislative initiative that creates the sense that these rights are being disregarded. Israel's success in beating the virus depends on the public's trust in the regime waging the battle, but such legislation may harm that trust.

The proposed draft bill suggests a temporary measure that would be in place for 10 months. It would authorize the government to approve regulations similar to emergency regulations, and therefore doesn’t appear to be a significant transition from secondary legislation to primary legislation. 

The government’s powers would be stipulated by a state of emergency declaration that would last 45 days and could be extended. This arrangement will supposedly improve things, replacing emergency regulations that expire after three months. However, assuming the government extends these regulations, it would virtually be an attempt to create an emergency arrangement that could be in effect for up to 10 months.

The bill would authorize the government to approve regulations couched in very sparse language, while insufficiently enshrining into law the required principles for legislation that is supposed to provide the public with detailed content. For instance, the memorandum doesn’t mention the decision-making mechanism for dealing with the coronavirus crisis, including who would be consulted on the matter. Thus, the proposed bill would allow chaos to prevail.

The purpose of the regulations is extremely broad: “To prevent contagion, limit the virus' spread and the incidence of illness, as well as protecting at-risk populations.”