|Israeli Supreme Court|
Using various charts and graphs, Netanyahu showed that Israel has seen a tremendous reduction in its infection rate, a reduction in the number of daily fatalities and a reduction in the number of seriously and critically ill patients.
It is true that the steps taken, largely at the behest of professionals working in the Ministry of Health, have helped Israel to fare reasonably well in comparison. But it is unclear that this means that Israel can now open everything up and pretend that the virus has gone. If there is a resurgence, everything will have to be shut down again quite quickly. According to Netanyahu, it will take about two weeks to make that assessment.
In the meantime, the Israeli government has loosened many restrictions. Malls and outdoor markets will be open on Thursday May 7, 2020. Visits to see family members, including grandparents are now permitted - though "no hugging" is recommended. Gatherings of up to 20 people are now permitted. (Up until now, this was only permitted if it was an outdoor prayer service). Weddings on Lag B'Omer may be permitted with up to 50 people - though it wasn't clear if the limit will be 20 or 50. All students are expected to return to schools by the end of May.
People will still be expected to wear masks when they are out and gloves are recommended though not mandatory. We took a walk today around Ra'anana. While there were some people without masks, we concluded that most people were complying. In some shops, proprietors were following all of the restrictions diligently. In others, things were a bit looser. Okay, much looser....But the infection rate in Ra'anana has been reasonably low so it is fair to assume that many people here are following the rules.
Some other cities in Israel have been much harder hit, most notably, Jerusalem, B'nei Brak and some other areas. However, it does appear that things are improving somewhat in most of the country. It remains to be seen whether this will be a blip or whether it will mark some genuine progress. The Israeli government has indicated that if all goes well, it intends to permit gatherings of 50 or more people - for weddings, funerals etc., by June 17th. Not sure yet what this will mean for restaurants - though it may be good news for those with outdoor patios.
Today also marked the second day of arguments before the Israeli Supreme Court over whether or not to permit the coalition deal with the Blue and White party to proceed. Various groups have brought petitions to the Court arguing against the deal. I am not going to review all of the legal arguments but I will highlight a few of them.
Under Israeli law, a "Prime Minister" can serve even while under indictment for serious offences. However, other MKs cannot continue in their posts and ordinary "Ministers" are required to step down if charged with certain serious offenses. The new coalition agreement contemplates that Netanyahu would serve as the Prime Minister for the first 18 months and would then step down to a lesser position. However, under current Israeli law, that would require him to resign altogether until the serious charges that he faces were resolved. The solution that Netanyahu concocted is that he wouldn't still be called the "Prime Minister" but Gantz would be the "Alternate Prime Minister" who would effectively run everything after the rotation date. But because Netanyahu would still be called the "Prime Minister" he would not be forced to resign. Israel would effectively have two Prime Ministers which seems to go against Israel's quasi-constitutional Basic Law. (Israel does not have an actual constitution).
The Court chewed on this one for a while today. Ultimately, some members of the Court suggested that they may delay deciding until it actually becomes an issue 18 months from now. But Netanyahu's lawyers urged the Court to make a decision now.
The coalition deal would also require a freeze on all new appointments in government including a number of key positions which have been dormant for some time. Netanyahu's lawyers argued that it was all because of Covid-19. Some of the Supreme Court judges asked how the two were in any way related...For example, the President of the Court asked why Covid-19 would prevent the government from appointing a new Chief of Police.
I have to confess that, as a lawyer, I enjoyed watching a chunk of the arguments. It was fascinating to compare legal discourse in Canada to that in Israel. It was a very heated argument at times - and certainly the type of language that was used was much more colourful (and at times informal) than one might hear at the Canadian Supreme Court, most of the time. My Hebrew is good enough to catch most of it though I probably missed some nuances, some references to previously decided cases and some other phrases common only in Hebrew legal usage.
From what I could gather, there is a strong reluctance on the part of the judges to interfere in the election process. They do not want to be seen as overriding a democratically elected government formed though a back and forth negotiation process. At the same time, they are wary of upholding laws that would violate the Israeli Basic Law and chip away at Israel's democracy and commitment to the rule of law. Towards the end of the hearing, the justices signaled that they needed to hear further arguments about two key issues and gave the Likud lawyers 24 hours to amend the proposed law or put forward better arguments. It would be really difficult, however, to predict what decision will follow that additional argument.
Changing the topic, the weather here is heating up and the big holiday of Lag B'Omer - national bonfire day (effectively) is approaching. Beaches are not yet open but just about everything else will be soon - and reopen beaches cannot be too far off. Many people are now out and about and there is a feeling of some optimism across the country.
For many, however, a huge part of the Israeli economy is tourism. So many businesses across the country rely on the tourism industry. Hotels, restaurants, merchants, tour guides and so many others. It is really unclear when Israel will be able to reopen its borders to tourists, when the airports will reopen and when things will really turn back to some semblance of normal.
But I suppose that is the same just about everywhere else. We will all just have to hope that things improve dramatically everywhere, the sooner the better. Wishing everyone the best of health.