Cabinet to vote on reopening airport to allow Israelis to vote

Police complaint filed against Airport closure exceptions.

Passengers in Ben-Gurion Airport amid ongoing coronavirus restrictions, Feb. 2021 (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
Passengers in Ben-Gurion Airport amid ongoing coronavirus restrictions, Feb. 2021
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/ MAARIV)
The cabinet will consider a new framework to enable some 25,000 Israelis to return home to vote in the March 23 election, Transportation Minister Miri Regev announced Sunday in a briefing for reporters who cover her ministry.
Regev said she met with Health Ministry and National Security Council officials about the framework earlier Sunday and decided that the governmental committee on exceptions to the closure of Ben-Gurion Airport that she heads would be dismantled. As part of the framework, only citizens of the country would be allowed in, and they would have to go to coronavirus hotels, where they would vote.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz immediately took credit for Regev’s decision. But he said she would still have to present the cabinet with data about Israelis who were allowed to enter the country and reveal why Israelis in distress were rejected while others were approved. Gantz said he would demand in the cabinet to allow every Israeli abroad to come home.
Labor Party candidates Emilie Moatti and Gilad Kariv filed a complaint with the Tel Aviv police on Sunday against Regev’s committee. The police complaint accuses the committee of fraud and breach of trust for violating the criteria set by the government in its decisions. The Labor candidates wrote that the committee purposely favored haredim (ultra-Orthodox), who tend to vote for parties in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s political bloc.
“The right to vote is fundamental in a functioning democracy,” Moatti said. “We cannot allow a political committee to prevent citizens from exercising their right to vote for the March 24th Knesset.”
A Channel 12 report on Friday night found that 90% of the people who are being allowed in the country despite the closure are haredim.
Netanyahu downplayed the report, saying Regev’s committee has acted professionally and that the ministerial legal advisers who are part of it have no idea whether applicants are secular or haredi.
“It is wrong to film a flight from New York with haredim and not film a fight from another city full of secular people,” he said.
New Hope candidate for prime minister Gideon Sa’ar announced on Sunday that if elected, he would form a commission of inquiry to determine whether the current government purposely closed the airport for political reasons.
The Attorney-General’s Office said it had informed the government last week that altering the rules for Israelis to return to the country or to vote overseas needed to be dealt with according to the laws passed by the Knesset.
In other words, the Attorney-General’s Office sympathized with criticism of preventing Israeli citizens who are stuck overseas from voting.
However, it said the Knesset had passed into law rules of the game and either needed to abide by its own rules or change them by formally amending the law.
On Sunday, the Central Elections Committee determined that Israelis stuck abroad due to coronavirus restrictions will not be able to vote from outside the country. The committee ruled in response to a request by two Israeli citizens in the Czech Republic to vote at the Israeli Embassy in Prague.
The citizens said if they could not vote in the embassy, a polling station should travel between cities abroad to enable voting by citizens like them who are prevented from entering Israel by the closure of Ben-Gurion Airport.
But the committee, led by Supreme Court Justice Uzi Vogelman, said both requests were beyond the committee’s jurisdiction. He stressed that he did not have the authority to allow exceptions to the law nor to provide measures to allow Israelis abroad to vote.
The committee decided that the citizens do not have the “right by law” to vote in the Israeli Embassy. Only a civil servant or an employee of the Jewish Agency, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund or the United Israel Appeal (Keren Hayesod) who are abroad due to their work are allowed to vote in Israeli embassies. The spouses and children of such employees under the age of 20 are allowed to vote at embassies as well.
Voting for such emissaries abroad and their families will begin on March 10 at the Israeli Embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, and end two days later at the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. There will be 100 embassies and consulates facilitating voting, including for the first time in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.
The Israel Democracy Institute submitted an opinion to Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri, asserting that setting sweeping restrictions on Israeli citizens’ ability to return to the country from overseas is extremely problematic from a constitutional perspective and is without parallel in the democratic world. The opinion also stated that restrictions on entry by citizens and permanent residents at this time could infringe on the right to vote in the upcoming elections as Israelis must be present in the country to cast their ballot.
The authors of the opinion, Prof. Yuval Shany, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, Dr. Amir Fuchs, Dr. Guy Lurie and Nadiv Mordechai, called on the government to end without delay the ban on citizens’ entry, or at the very least to decide that the current severe restrictions on their return to Israel will not be extended beyond their current expiration date.

Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.