The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel filed a petition with the High Court of Justice on Monday, demanding that it order the government to allow all Israelis who are overseas and want to vote in the upcoming election to return home.
The recent government expansion of entry permits was inadequate, as it is limited to 1,000 a day at certain entry points, with a maximum of 3,000 per day, the petition said.
Further, it also took the government to task for limiting entry points for such returning citizens.
According to the petition, Israel is the only country in the world putting such limits on returning citizens, though many countries have limits on noncitizens entering their borders.
The NGO asked the court for an immediate emergency order to allow all Israelis who so desire to arrive before Election Day on March 23.
This is not the only petition the NGO has filed regarding entry controversies at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Last week, the NGO filed a petition to compel the government to reveal how it decided to grant special permits to enter the country through Ben-Gurion Airport during the recent period of extraordinary lockdown.
“There is a suspicion that the decisions were made with preference to people who have special connections in the corridors of power,” it said.
According to the NGO, the special committee for granting exceptional entries into Israel must publicly explain in detail its decisions in order to confound allegations of “systematic discrimination” and “giving preference to certain sectors.”
In recent weeks, apart from a small number of exceptions, Ben-Gurion Airport has been mostly closed to returnees to prevent new coronavirus cases, including mutations, from entering the country.
There have been allegations that during the closure period, the government has given preference to haredi (ultra-Orthodox) returnees and other potential supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and parties aligned with his Likud Party.
If shown to be true, this would be not only a case of nepotism, but an attempt to influence the March 23 election, which is expected to be a close contest. Selecting pro-Likud voters while excluding anti-Likud voters from returning could influence that outcome.
According to the NGO, publicizing the details of the committee’s decisions is “a crucial tool to ensure public accountability.”
Judicial intervention was necessary “in light of the great harm to public faith in the relevant authorities” that the suspicions have caused, the petition said.
To avoid further damage, it requested an emergency expedited hearing along with an interim order against the government before the first hearing takes place.
In addition, the NGO said it had tried and failed in letters sent on February 14 and 22 to various government authorities to obtain the sought-after information about the committee’s decisions.
While government officials have mostly denied the accusations, United Torah Judaism MK Yakov Asher appeared to acknowledge the validity of the allegations concerning preference given to haredi travelers. However, he said the purpose was to help individuals in dire situations, not to favor those with powerful political connections.
The High Court held an initial hearing on a similar petition brought by a group of private citizens last week.