Israel has passed a law banning mass protests during the country’s coronavirus lockdown, with opposition groups claiming Benjamin Netanyahu has used the health crisis to quell protests calling for him to resign as prime minister.
The country’s lawmaker, the Knesset, approved the controversial law at 4.30am local time on Wednesday after an overnight session. This allows people to travel more than 1 km from their homes and to restrict gatherings of more than 20 people outside
Critics say it, in reality, criminalizes weekly rallies in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where thousands of people have expressed their outrage at allegations of corruption as well as Netanyahu conducting the epidemic, which he denies.
Hundreds of people gathered outside the Knesset on Tuesday to condemn the new laws.
“I think we see that they are not to stop the epidemic or the coronavirus, it is a political restriction to stop the protests against Netanyahu and kill him,” said actor Janiv Segal, who has been out of work for several months.
“It simply came to our notice then. Stopping resistance only against a prime minister who is corrupt and accused of many crimes. ”
Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party had earlier called for the ban to remain in place after the lockdown was lifted, but lawmakers rejected the offer. The new law can only be used during lockdowns.
After the law was passed, opposition leader Yair Lapid tweeted: “What is the next step? Prohibiting the Leader of the Opposition from giving a speech in Parliament? ”
Israel has recorded some of the world’s highest per capita coronavirus infection rates, and a military agency said Tuesday that the country’s per capita death rate surpassed that of the United States.
Although the rate of a lockdown infection was able to reach very low levels in the spring, officials say the country was reopened very quickly and with some restrictions.
“We were not careful. We were not careful about how we emerged from the last lockdown, I don’t think we are taking adequate measures to reduce infections and illness, “Health Ministry Director General Hijie Levy told Public Radio.
The three-week lockdown imposed this month has forced all non-essential businesses to shut down and the country has largely shut down.
Protest leaders have questioned the science behind the new rules, arguing that open-demonstration rallies will not have the risk of infection, especially compared to indoor religious rallies, which have been singled out as hotspots.
Critics of Netanyahu have accused the prime minister of failing to do enough to limit religious gatherings, encouraged by powerful Jewish ultra-Orthodox politicians. This month Netanyahu dropped a plan for local-lockdowns, which would affect the religious community after pressure from ultra-Orthodox mayors.
“I’m not saying I have anything against religious people. I don’t, “said psychologist Lirie Burak Shabitt in a protest on Tuesday.
“Religious people did not want it to go ahead. They said, ‘BB, if you do that, next time we won’t vote for you,’ he said. “Then, a minute later, the whole country had to shut down. People are angry, people are angry. ”
In response, many deeply religious Israelis believe they are being unfairly targeted and this fact points to the fact that ultra-Orthodox communities often live in poor, crowded areas where the infection spreads rapidly.
More than 234,000 infections and 1,516 deaths in Israel’s population of 9 million have been recorded, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Tuesday.
“There’s no way we’re going to lift all the bans in 10 days and say it’s over, everything’s fine,” he told public broadcaster Kane. “