Knesset approves increased COVID-19 fines at first reading

"Do you really want to give each police officer a bomb in the shape of a NIS 10,000 fine?" asked UTJ MK Ya'akov Asher.

Border Police officers are seen in Jerusalem's Old City during Israel's third lockdown.  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Border Police officers are seen in Jerusalem's Old City during Israel's third lockdown.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset approved in its first reading on Monday a legal measure to increase the fines imposed on Israelis who are violating the COVID-19 health regulations, with 52 in favor and 23 against.
"Until the third reading has been approved, Blue and White will not allow affirmation of lockdown regulations," Defense Minister and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz said on Monday. 
"If the outline of the fines does not pass by tomorrow evening, the decision on the continuation of the closure will be transferred to the Knesset plenum, where the coalition does not have a majority without Blue and White," Gantz said.
"Do you really want to give each police officer a bomb in the shape of a NIS 10,000 fine?" asked UTJ MK Yakov Asher.
He called the new measure "a special fine meant only for haredi [ultra-Orthodox] people" and wondered why nobody thought of imposing a special fine for food deliveries or those who go to beaches and parks. 
"All of these people are essential workers?" he cried out. 
Haredi cities have the lowest proportion of fines for violation of government coronavirus regulations, despite having some of the highest morbidity rates, according to a new study sponsored by Israel Hofsheet (Be Free Israel), an organization that struggles against religious coercion and for pluralism.
The number of fines issued in the largest haredi cities, including Bnei Brak, Modi’in Illit, Betar Illit and Elad, is proportionally some 18 times lower than in the 50 cities with the highest rates of fines to COVID-19 patients, the study reported. 
Avi Nissenkorn of The Israelis party said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu buried a similar law Nissenkorn passed in November. 
"Today is more of the same," he wrote in a tweet, "Netanyahu passed the law at first reading and will now bury it or soften it with an Israel-bluff." 
He argued Netanyahu is motivated "purely out of personal political interests" and that "we all pay the price." 
Netanyahu spoke on Monday evening with other coalition heads and demanded the law be passed at second and third reading "immediately." 

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that he is "amazed to see people who don't follow [the health regulations]." 
"They risk themselves and the health of those around them – this is why we must pass the law to increase fines and help us deter [would-be violators]," he said. 
The minister himself was slammed last year when he announced new social distancing measures and later held a party in his own home.
He argued at the time that the measures weren't yet in place so there was no wrongdoing on his part.