Due to a veto from the Joint List, the Knesset did not vote on Monday on the government’s decision to enable the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) to track people exposed to the COVID-19 Omicron variant.
The government passed the decision on Sunday, and it requires Knesset approval. The heads of four opposition factions wrote a letter to the Ministerial Liaison to the Knesset Ze’ev Elkin volunteering to cancel its no-confidence motions and bring the surveillance plan to an immediate vote.
The heads of Likud, Religious Zionist Party, United Torah Judaism and Shas wrote to Elkin that their support was conditional on the entire coalition backing the proposal with coalition discipline. The letter mocked the change of heart on the issue by key members of the coalition – a reference to Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz, who vigorously opposed such surveillance when enacted by the previous government.
But the parties said COVID-19 required national unity and immediate action.
“When it comes to fighting the coronavirus, there is no coalition and no opposition,” Religious Zionist Party leader Bezalel Smotrich said. “Saving lives must come first.”
The coalition did not respond to the opposition’s letter. Sources in the coalition said there was no need to reply because there had already been an agreement between the coalition and opposition that no bills would be raised during Hanukkah unless every faction in the Knesset agreed.
The Joint List strongly opposes Shin Bet surveillance, fearing it sets a precedent for use on issues other than the coronavirus. The party did not approve adding the item to the Knesset’s agenda.
By contrast, Ra'am (United Arab List) head Mansour Abbas told Hebrew University's Truman institute that he supports Shin-Bet surveillance to stop the spread of variants.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to approve the surveillance continuing without Knesset approval until after the holiday.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman told his Yisrael Beytenu faction on Monday that when the Shin Bet surveillance comes to a vote, ministers who opposed it in the cabinet would have to vote in favor of the binding decision.
The decision was opposed by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton (New Hope), Strategic Planning Minister Eli Avidar (Yisrael Beytenu) and Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej (Meretz). Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) left the room after Horowitz asked her not to vote against it.
No-confidence motions in the government on issues of fighting terrorism and proposed egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall were defeated.