Knesset Committee chair fights to limit targeted lockdowns

Shin Bet surveillance delayed again.

A general view shows a street in Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown, April 3, 2020 (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
A general view shows a street in Bnei Brak as Israel enforces a lockdown, April 3, 2020
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Yakov Asher on Sunday pressed to limit targeted lockdowns despite rising calls by the Health Ministry for such measures to help combat the rising coronavirus infection rates.
Asher said, “We will unhesitatingly dig deep into even the low-resolution details of this law. I have uncomfortable feelings about it. The law stigmatizes certain cities.”
He continued, “on one hand, it seems that no one wants to use this tool” to combat the corona wave, “but once it is being used, sometimes it is not being used sensibly or with the proper restraint. Also, locking down certain specific neighborhoods has not always been free from error.”
Asher implied that he and his committee would extend the government’s ability to order lockdowns for 45 days sometime this week (the authority for lockdowns expire at the end of this week), but only with more safeguards for how it is handled.
The committee chairman said that he would make it obligatory for the Health Ministry to consult with mayors and local authorities who were being considered for lockdown.
In contrast, Asher said that during lockdowns until now, some municipal authorities were taken seriously by the Health Ministry, and therefore, their populations were treated better, while some were ignored.
Health Ministry official Anat Tzuriel admitted that there had been some errors in aspects of the data which the ministry used to justify lockdowns in the Tiberias area.
Tzuriel said that the ministry was trying to improve the depth of its criteria and the process for using the criteria to make targeted lockdown decisions.
National Security Council Lotar branch chief Yigal Slovik complimented the Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh municipalities for working closely and rapidly with the government.
However, he added, “if we missed the mayor of Elad, we need to fix that,” appearing to validate the point that some municipal officials were treated better than others.
Further, he said that the government was open to local officials questioning their lockdown data and requesting to debate the data.
Elad Mayor Israel Porush slammed the government for “humiliating an entire city.”
Beit Shemesh Mayor Aliza Bloch said that the government must think through what it means to do a lockdown before jumping the gun, and that even if a lockdown is needed, it must be thoughtfully implemented.
The committee’s deliberations were expected to continue late into the night, including addressing other emergency powers which the Health Ministry and some government officials may want to invoke to regain control over corona infection rates.
Originally, the committee’s plan was to pass a large corona emergency powers bill which would regulate both corona and future potential pandemics with a long-term approach.
Yet, the sudden rise in corona infections over the last two weeks has brought pressure to extend some form of the current emergency powers on a temporary basis and to take up the long-term bill once the country’s trajectory is clearer.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Knesset Intelligence subcommittee still did not know on Sunday when chairman Zvi Hauser would reconvene the committee to address Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s demand to reinstate Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) surveillance of coronavirus infected citizens.
Already a full week ago Netanyahu had wanted to reinstate the program, but has been either stopped or slowed by repeated opposition from Shin Bet Director Nadav Argaman.
Argaman was opposed to the Shin Bet using its surveillance tools – usually reserved for tracking terrorists – even back in March.
His opposition helped end the program three weeks ago.
Hauser announced on Thursday that he was ready to reauthorize the program for a limited period of approximately 30 days to give the government time to ready the Magen 2 cellphone application and parallel programs to track infection rates.
However, the combination of some opposition on Hauser’s committee as well as opposition from Argaman, civil society NGOs and concerns about the High Court of Justice appear to have blocked or delayed any Shin Bet involvement.