Civil rights must not disappear

A variety of groups and grievances are at play, with restaurant owners, social workers and many others taking a stand.

Allies of the Machane Yehuda market stand empty due to coronavirus (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Allies of the Machane Yehuda market stand empty due to coronavirus
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Protests against Benjamin Netanyahu have continued to grow this past week, particularly outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem. However, instead of the movement specifically targeting the prime minister and his ongoing corruption and bribery trial, the discontent has understandably grown to include issues far beyond Netanyahu.
A variety of groups and grievances are at play, with restaurant owners, social workers and many others taking a stand. While the government initially handled the first wave of the coronavirus remarkably well, there seems to have been no long-term strategy for dealing with a second wave.
Instead of buckling down to put together a strategy that will deal with a potential third wave and beyond, our elected leaders are squabbling with each other, and the cabinet is demanding increased powers with reduced oversight. Even if the COVID-19 pandemic is defined as a national emergency, national emergencies do not negate civil rights, which is why the government’s coronavirus law is so problematic.
The early lockdown was key in Israel’s battle against the virus, but a long-term lockdown is unsustainable and will lead to rampant unemployment and economic collapse. Instead of using the initial lockdown to develop a strategy for dealing with a second wave – which could overwhelm Israel’s hospitals – the government seems to have undertaken no planning at all.
Now we find ourselves in the position where the best thing for the Health Ministry to do is institute yet another lockdown. That would be a nail in the coffin for small businesses already facing tremendous financial pressures due to the initial shutdown.
While there is no question that the protection of life is paramount, we cannot ignore the necessity of a functioning economy, because this surely protects human life as well. The government of Israel doesn’t have the resources to support long-term, wide-scale unemployment, and another lockdown would surely lead to that.
The government has not come up with solutions that focus on the most vulnerable populations. It has not reduced hospital overcrowding by investing in robust EMS services. It hasn’t even put forth a coherent strategy and communications plan to educate the public to reduce the spread of coronavirus and allow businesses to plan for the fiscal year accordingly.

INSTEAD, OUR leaders are arguing with the committee tasked with making decisions regarding coronavirus restrictions and have pushed through a law to expand government restrictions on civilians without Knesset oversight. Decisions like this show a total disregard for the rule of law and for democratic decision-making.
Anti-democratic laws like this enable the government to dictate COVID-19 restrictions without advance notice. Only after a duration of one week do the relevant committees (of which the Knesset Coronavirus Committee is not one) have the power to reject the cabinet’s decision.
The law might continue until mid-2021. We all understand the need for executive privilege in specific, life-and-death situations, but the evidence does not support classifying the current pandemic as such.
This comes on the heels of Coronavirus Committee head Yifat Shasha-Biton rejecting the cabinet’s proposed coronavirus directives multiple times. That suggests this all may be a political maneuver to get around the committee. A public health crisis is not the time for making political maneuvers. That a law expanding the powers of the government was passed now says a lot about what some of our elected officials think of the Israeli public.
How are small businesses, especially restaurants, supposed to function with shutdowns effective at a moment’s notice? Throw in Israel’s already predatory tactics in heavily fining and ticketing individuals and small businesses for violating mandated restrictions (even when no one actually knows what they are), and you have a recipe for disaster.
Laws that protect basic freedoms – including economic freedom – do not disappear because there is an emergency, especially when the emergency has no end in sight. It is even be debatable whether the current situation is, in fact, an emergency.
As if three elections in less than a year weren’t enough, the government has failed the public yet again. Israelis deserve a government that represents them and protects their civil liberties and democracy, not one that works to undermine democracy and protect the political power of specific individuals.
The writer is the CEO of digital marketing firm Social Lite Creative.