High Court keeps pressure on gov’t about opening airport

The order appeared to keep the pressure on the state by demanding the numbers by 4:00 p.m. on Monday.

The departure hall of an almost empty Ben-Gurion Airport, January 25, 2021.  (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
The departure hall of an almost empty Ben-Gurion Airport, January 25, 2021.
(photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)
The High Court of Justice late Sunday ordered the government to provide it with updated statistics on how many overseas Israelis might be unable to get into the country to vote absent judicial intervention.
The order appeared to keep the pressure on the state by demanding the numbers by 4:00 p.m. on Monday. But it also signaled some hesitation by the justices, as it is the second interim order they have issued without reaching a final decision.
Justice Neal Hendel suggested that it was insufficient for the state to throw up its hands and say it could not accommodate Israeli citizens to return home to vote because of an insufficient volume of mechanical tools or personnel to ensure quarantine measures for them.
Rather, he implied, rolling the dice a bit on the quarantine issue for a short period of weeks leading into the election might be in order and should not overly undermine the trend of coronavirus rates in the country dropping.
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 the government explain by Sunday why it is 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, and the petitioners must counter no later than 2:30 p.m., suggested that the justices might rule by Sunday afternoon or evening.
However, it seemed that the justices were still having misgivings about how much their order could impact the coronavirus trends nationwide and might be concerned about later being blamed for causing a fourth wave and a fourth lockdown.
It was unclear whether the top court’s demand for updated statistics was truly its focus or whether the justices were buying additional time to weigh their possibilities and to shorten any period of time they might order Ben-Gurion Airport to be open.
This could have the impact of reducing how many overseas Israeli voters get to exercise their voting rights even if the High Court eventually orders a full opening. But it might also reduce the risk of a fourth wave.
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 back into the country.
The petition said the recent government expansion of how many Israelis can return was inadequate, as it was limited to 1,000 per day at certain entry 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.
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 for an immediate emergency order by the court so that the situation will be amended in time for Israelis to arrive before Election Day on March 23.
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 Airport during the recent lockdown.
“There is a suspicion that the decisions were made with preference to people who have special connections in the corridors of power,” the movement warned.
According to the NGO, the special committee for granting exemptions must publicize in detail the justifications for its various decisions to confront allegations of “systematic discrimination” and “giving preference to certain sectors.”
In recent weeks, Ben-Gurion Airport has been mostly closed to limit the entry of new coronavirus cases from outside of the country, with only a relatively small number of exceptions.
At the same time, there have been wide allegations that during this period, the government gave preference for special entry to people from the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) sector and other potential voters who would support Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and parties aligned with the Likud.
If this is true, it would have extra significance, as it would appear not only to be a form of nepotism, but could also influence the March 23 election, which is considered to be a tight race in the battle over who will form the next coalition.