Benjamin Netanyahu — Israel’s caretaker prime minister who has now been through three elections in less than a year, and still presides over a fractured governmental structure — ended last week with an offer to opposition Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to join in a national unity deal with “no shticks or tricks.” Under Netanyahu’s three-year coalition offer, he proposed himself as the prime minister for the first year and a half, with Gantz taking over for the remainder of the term. After the term, Netanyahu says he will quit. According to reports, Gantz can’t accept the deal because his principal coalition partners won’t let him.
But that’s not all that’s on Netanyahu’s plate. He must also deal with COVID-19 and its increasing threat to the safety and security of the Israeli people, including Israel’s Arab population. Responding to the view that the virus poses a major security issue, Netanyahu announced earlier last week that the government, through the Shin Bet, would use electronic means to enforce self-isolation on the population in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus. That decree prompted much more reaction and criticism than the unity government offer.
The monitoring move has supporters and detractors. The main concern is about civil liberties; detractors feel that before giving security services the power to monitor people in their day-to-day lives, the personal privacy vs. citizen health issue should be considered by a Knesset committee and vetted through the legislative process. But according to Eugene Kontorovich, a law professor at George Mason University and director of international law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, the monitoring measure “was justified and legal and should serve as a model for the United States. … During this and other epidemics, the government has the right to curtail many fundamental liberties. One person’s rights end where they begin to endanger others. This information is used to save lives, by finding people who have been unwittingly exposed and may be spreading disease.”
But why wasn’t the measure reviewed by the Knesset? Last week, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, of Likud, suspended all parliamentary activities in the face of a Blue and White threat to unseat him. Nevertheless, Israel’s Supreme Court directed that the practice of monitoring be stopped until the Knesset develops an appropriate supervision mechanism.
That shifted the pressure to Edelstein and his Likud friends to reopen the Knesset, so that the necessary systems of government can move forward, and Israel can chart its course for fighting the pandemic.
Meanwhile, on Sunday, Israel saw its first coronavirus death, and has reported more than 950 coronavirus infections. The virus is clearly a national health concern that requires a clear and comprehensive health-directed response. It’s not the time for governmental, big-brother “shticks or tricks.”