July 22, 2020 / 9:54 PM / 12 days ago

Parliamentary oversight reduced for Israeli anti-coronavirus curbs

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli lawmakers on Thursday empowered the government to order anti-coronavirus curbs with limited parliamentary oversight, stirring opposition fears for the country’s democratic health.

FILE PHOTO: Israelis march as they protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government's response to the financial fallout of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis in Jerusalem July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

After early success in clamping down on the pandemic, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been struggling with resurgent contagions. Sporadic closures of various sectors of the economy have deepened public vexation, sparking daily demonstrations.

By a vote of 48-35, the Knesset ratified a “Grand Corona Law” that would allow the government to impose restrictions it deems urgent - such as a threatened new lockdown - with lawmakers reviewing such decisions only after 24 hours.

Other anti-coronavirus measures not deemed urgent by the government would go into effect only after a Knesset review.

The government says the streamlining of its authority is needed to address the crisis. Israel, with a population of 9 million, has reported more than 50,000 coronavirus cases and 400 deaths.

“Do you have any doubt that we will not be able to stop the coronavirus spread without the ability to make quick, difficult, clear-cut decisions like we did during the first wave?” Internal Security Minister Amir Ohana told Army Radio, referring to the previous caretaker government, which issued emergency decrees.

But with Netanyahu dogged by a corruption trial and plummeting approval ratings, opposition figures said Israel’s legislature needed to maintain strong scrutiny of him.

Yoel Razvozov, a centrist opposition parliamentarian,

described the Grand Corona Law as “fascistic and dictatorial.”

“No democracy in the world would agree to cancel out its own parliament,” he tweeted.

Amir Fuchs, a researcher at the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute, said transparency around coronavirus policy could suffer, as Cabinet debates were often kept confidential.

“The outcome of this is very poor management of the battle against the pandemic, where success is very much dependent on the public’s trust and cooperation,” Fuchs said.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Peter Cooney

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