Photo Credit: Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90
Israeli police officers detain a demonstrator during a protest outside the Knesset, September 29, 2020.

The Knesset approved overnight Wednesday in second and third readings an amendment to the Corona Powers Law that will allow the government to restrict demonstrations as part of the fight against the pandemic. 46 MKs supported the law, 38 opposed.

The law prohibits demonstrating beyond a kilometer from one’s place of residence.

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Most Blue&White MKs supported the law after the Likud withdrew its planned amendments that were intended to further tighten restrictions on protesters. MKs Miki Haimovich and Ram Shefa of Blue&White voted against the bill, and many coalition MKs were absent from the vote. But then again, some opposition members kept away as well.

The amended Corona Powers Act now allows the government to prevent citizens from demonstrating wherever they want. The government may also set a distance limit for demonstrations, and such restrictions may vary depending on the increase or decrease in the severity of Health Ministry regulations (spoiler alert: they will not decrease for some time).

Before the amendment, the law exempted demonstrations from restrictions in terms of their distance from the participants’ homes, and in fact, no restrictions were imposed on these demonstrations other than maintaining social distancing and wearing facemasks. In its amended form, the law, which the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee approved Wednesday night just before the plenum vote, actually authorizes the government to restrict a person from leaving home to join a demonstration which is more than a thousand meters from his home during the lockdown.

In other words, if you object to any act of government, look out your window and if there’s a rally of like-minded citizens across the street – feel free to join.

Under the amended law, the government will be authorized to declare a “special state of emergency due to the coronavirus” for a week, if it is convinced that that the spread of the virus is causing severe harm to public health and on condition that the lockdown regulations are still valid. The government will be able to extend the special state of emergency for up to 21 days, one week at a time, and the Justice Committee will have the authority to annul the decision retroactively. With the Justice Committee’s approval, the Government will be able to extend the state of emergency by additional two-week periods, as long as the lockdown regulations are in effect.

The government accepted the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Asher’s demand that prayers, demonstrations, or religious rituals will not be banned entirely during the special state of emergency declared during a lockdown, but the government will be authorized to impose restrictions on such gatherings, including limitations on the number of participants.

Chairman Asher said, “Dozens of yellow municipalities turned red within two-three weeks, irrespective of Arabs or Haredim. Mass enforcement, for an entire country, is difficult to impossible, so exclusions cannot be made… Anyone who has been in a classroom knows that you can’t say yes to one child and no to another.”

“I hope the ‘surgery’ will be short and effective, and that we will be able to gradually return to a life of normalcy,” and that God will send refuah shlema to everyone,” Asher said.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.