A legal brief by the state to the High Court of Justice on Monday revealed that 1,879 Israelis are stranded overseas and waiting to find out if they will get into the country in time to vote in next week’s election.
The brief was filed as part of an ongoing legal fight over whether the government can maintain limits on how many overseas Israelis can come into the country in anticipation of Election Day on March 23.
Despite already issuing two interim orders to pressure the government over the issue, which has been before the court since early last week, the justices had still refrained from a final order to fully open Ben-Gurion Airport at press time.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said that with the state finally showing more flexibility regarding which overseas locations can send flights to Israel and the limited number of 1,879 Israelis who want to come to vote, it saw no reason why the state is maintaining a 3,000 person per day limit.
In other words, the movement said that the 3,000 people per day limit seemed unnecessary given that the demand for overseas Israelis who want to come to vote is significantly less than that.
At the same time, the NGO rejected the limit on principle, continuing to note that no other country is putting such limits on its citizens who are returning home, let alone for exercising the fundamental right to vote.
It was unclear if the High Court would continue to drag its feet on the issue until it was so close to Election Day that its order to open Ben Gurion to overseas Israelis would be too late and have little impact – and whether the justices thought the state had already shown enough new flexibility or if they were worried about being blamed for a potential fourth coronavirus wave.
Last week, the High Court seemed to signal that it would rule against the government and order Ben-Gurion Airport to be fully opened to overseas Israeli citizens who wish to vote in the March 23 election.
The justices last week issued a conditional interim order demanding that the government explain by Sunday why it was legal for it to limit the amount and schedule of Israeli voters who want to come into the country to vote.
The aggressive schedule set by the court – which stated that the government must respond by 11:30 a.m. Sunday March 14 and the petitioners must counter no later than 2:30 p.m. – suggested that the justices might rule by Sunday afternoon or evening. Late Sunday evening the justices ordered the state to provide a Monday update regarding the number of stranded Israelis.
However, it seems that the justices are still having hesitations about how much their order might impact the coronavirus trends nationwide, and they may also be concerned about being blamed later for causing a fourth wave and fourth lockdown.
Early last week, multiple parties filed a petition with the High Court demanding that it order the government to allow all Israelis overseas who want to return to vote in the upcoming election to come back into the country.
The petition said that the recent government expansion of how many Israelis can return was inadequate as it is limited the numbers to 1,000 per day at certain points with a maximum on some days of 3,000.
Further, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel took the government to task for limiting entry points for returning citizens.
On these two points, the state, after several days of delay which could impact traveling, did finally meet the requests by the NGO.
This is not the only petition the movement has filed regarding entry controversies at Ben-Gurion Airport.
Two weeks ago, it filed a petition to compel the government to publicize its decision-making process for granting special permits to enter the country through Ben-Gurion during the recent lockdown.
The movement warned that “there is a suspicion that the decisions were made with preference to people who have special connections in the corridors of power.”
According to the NGO, the special committee for granting exemptions must publicize in detail the justifications for its various decisions in order to confront allegations of “systematic discrimination” and “giving preference to certain sectors.”