Israel’s top court annuls Netanyahu govt’s daily cap on citizens returning to the country during Covid-19 pandemic

Israel’s top court annuls Netanyahu govt’s daily cap on citizens returning to the country during Covid-19 pandemic

An order by PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to only allow 3,000 Israeli citizens per day back into the country violates civil rights, while that arbitrary figure was pulled out of the hat, Israel’s High Court ruled.

With the exception of special flights, entry points into Israel by land, sea and air were shut down in late January in an attempt to prevent the new – and more contagious – variants of the coronavirus from making their way into the country. The ban was heavily criticized by Netanyahu’s political opponents and human rights groups, with the Israel Democracy Institute saying that it was “without parallel in democratic world.” The restrictions on air travel were relaxed only last week, but the government maintained that no more than 3,000 people per day could return home.

On Wednesday, Israel’s High Court of Justice ruled that both the closure of the borders and the subsequent cap on returning citizens were unconstitutional.

Entry limitation as a whole “violate[s] the basic constitutional right to enter and exit Israel, and others rights at the core of the democratic fabric of life,” the judges pointed out as cited by local media.

“The restrictions were set without the government having any data about the number of citizens abroad who want to return to the country, there was no explanation why the daily cap was set at 3,000,” they added.

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The judges said they got the “impression” that Netanyahu’s cabinet opted for entry quotas that infringed on basic rights only because they were “more simple to implement” than investigative activities and quarantine enforcement for the arrivals.

An aggravating factor in this whole situation was the proximity of the general election in the country, according to the court. On March 23, Israelis will go to the polls for the fourth time in two years. The new election was called in after the ruling coalition between Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White party of his main rival, Benny Gantz, fell apart in late 2020 over budget disagreements. Israeli laws only allow citizens to cast their ballots inside the country.

The judges argued that entry restrictions couldn’t be the solution because “the threat of the coronavirus and its different variants isn’t expected to disappear in the foreseeable future, despite the success of the vaccination drive.” 

The 3,000 daily cap on arrivals to Israel must be annulled, starting from Saturday, the High Court of Justice said.

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Israel’s coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said that the High Court ruling was “worrying because it will allow the entry of a lot of illness and dangerous variants” of the virus into the country, putting it at risk of a fresh “high wave of sickness.”

And the government is not giving up, with Channel 12 reporting that a team of experts from the Health Ministry, National Security Council, Transportation Ministry and Justice Ministry has been set up to develop a new plan to constrain entry into Israel that the court wouldn’t be able to overrule.

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