Reaping the Fruit of the Coronavirus

Very few are raising an alarm as Israel’s democratic freedoms are suspended

By Arthur Schwartzman | | Topics: Benjamin Netanyahu, Coronavirus
Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

It’s a scene straight out of a novel. The streets are empty, our mobility is restricted, the parliament has been shut down, the security services have been granted authority to tap our phones, and demonstrations are quickly dispersed by police.

This isn’t Orwellian fiction; this is our current state of affairs. Few voices sound an alarm as the democratic foundations of the Jewish state are being shaken, and all gets muffled under the mantel of the coronavirus.

But desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

The government unanimously approved, during a telephone meeting, emergency regulations to restrict the movement of the Israeli population in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. “There will be dramatic enforcement,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The responsibility also lies with you, the citizens of Israel. Each of you is a fighter in the battle against the coronavirus. Don’t say ‘I’ll be fine’. If you say it – it won’t be fine.”

Leaving the home is allowed for the purpose of stocking up on food and medicine, or for medical treatment. How exactly this will be enforced and how violators of said regulations will be punished is unclear. It was also announced that if necessary, the military will assist the police in enforcing a closure, if such is imposed.


Violation of privacy

The Ministry of Health has begun sending text messages to citizens identified by phone tracking by the Shabak (Israel Security Agency) as having been in the vicinity of coronavirus patients. The message reads as follows:

[First name] hello,

According to an epidemiological investigation, you were on [dd/mm/yy] next to a Corona patient.

You must immediately go into isolation until [dd/mm/yy] to protect your relatives and the public.

If you have a fever, cough etc. please call Magen David Adom – 101.

Learn more at

For confirmation dial *5400

The information will only be used for this purpose and will be deleted when necessary.


Public Health Services

Granting the security services authority to obtain a citizen’s private cellular information without a court order has angered privacy protection experts, who warn that a transitional government that for more than a year has not had the public’s trust is now taking dangerous, far-reaching steps.


Saved by the virus

In the midst of all this, on March 17, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled to appear at the Jerusalem District Court to begin his trial on charges of corruption. Two days before the scheduled hearing, however, Minister of Justice and Likud MK Amir Ohana declared a state of emergency in the judicial system, effectively freezing all hearings.

Just hours after Ohana’s announcement, Justices Rebecca Friedman-Feldman, Moshe Bar-Am and Oded Shaham, announced in relation to Netanyahu’s trial:

“In light of the latest guidelines issued and the declaration of emergency work, we decided to cancel the appointed hearing. At this stage, it is scheduled for May 24, 2020.”


Democracy suspended

The corona giveth, and the corona taketh away. Not pertaining to the virus and not under its guise is Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, who shuttered the plenary last week and prevented voting on the appointment of a new Knesset Speaker. No majority – no Knesset.

In light of the stagnation in the Knesset, Edelstein summoned the faction heads to a meeting, however Yisrael Beitenu refused to come. “It’s an attempt to cover the nudity of the Knesset with a fig leaf,” said party chairman Oded Forer, who added that “any briefing on the situation in Israel is supposed to take place before the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committees and not in front of a voluntary forum without any operative significance. This briefing is for the sake of appearance only to cover the shame that, contrary to the law, a foreign affairs committee and temporary defense committee have not yet been established.”

What did pertain to the coronavirus is that a demonstration against these recent events was halted and dissolved by the police under the pretense that the protesters were violating Ministry of Health guidelines.

The demonstration started as a convoy, armed with black flags, that rose to the capital in protest of the Knesset’s shutdown, and ended with dozens of drivers being arrested.

“Upon arriving at the Knesset, approximately 200 strong, they continued to violate the Ministry of Health’s order to limit all gatherings to 10 people,” claimed the police.

The protesters retorted:

“There is no violation of the Ministry of Health’s instructions when people are sitting in their vehicles. Public health is important to us. There are thousands of protesters, men and women, who came to demonstrate with an aching heart. In light of the corona crisis, we see how bright the black flag is.”

Uncertain times lie ahead of us as the State of Israel nears total shutdown, forecasts project gloom on the economy and the future of the security of the individual leaves less room for optimism. During this season, gird your loins with the truth, and shod your feet with preparation of the gospel of peace, for there is peace indeed to be found, outside of governments, principalities and powers.

“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” – George Orwell


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