Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90
Police officer handing out a fine to a Haredi man at the Bukharim quarter in Jerusalem, April 6, 2020.

Last Thursday, the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee concluded its hearing of all the arguments for and against a government bill that seeks to raise the fine for not wearing a facemask in public from NIS 200 ($58) to NIS 500 ($145), ahead of its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum, and Committee Chairman MK Yakov Asher (United Torah Judaism) urged the government to raise the fine to only NIS 300 ($87).

Chairman Asher believes that 300 shekel would “express the urgency of the issue but not with an excessive sum.” He also pointed out that the bill grants police officers and inspectors the authority not to issue a fine—if they believe the circumstances do not warrant it.

Advertisement



“I do not plan to vote for or support raising the fine to NIS 500. It’s excessive,” the committee chairman said, adding, “I plan to examine what can be done, but the number won’t be NIS 499 either.”

Chief Superintendent Eyal Reon, head of the Israel Police Operations Unit, told the committee: “We are in the field with the citizens every day and we feel the difficulty, the discomfort, and I wish we wouldn’t have to issue any fines. Unfortunately, in other countries as well, before the issue of enforcement was introduced, it was hard to get the public to follow the instructions that are meant to protect its health.”

“In the past month, we distributed more than 230,000 masks to citizens who were not wearing masks,” Reon continued, stressing that “the fine is a last resort. First we provide information to the public.”

“Since the enforcement of the face mask regulation began two and a half months ago, we have issued some 40,000 fines for not wearing a mask,” he told the committee.

That’s 8 million shekel to you and me ($2.35 million). A pretty penny to use for plugging the holes in anyone’s budget, especially the Israeli government, which nowadays is spending a lot more than it’s taking in, seeing as more than a million Israelis are collecting unemployment and twice that number are believed to be out of work.

MK Yoav Segalovitz (Yesh Atid-Telem) said, “An entire public is taken to be potential criminals… Show us where the dissemination of information is? NIS 500 during such a time, without a reason, why? Apparently those who thought of this have a lot to gain.”

MK Segalovitz said the most problematic aspect of the fine is the meeting between the inspector and the civilian. “This meeting is aggressive, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. If I’m too hot, and there is no one around me, then I’m a criminal? According to this law, I am.”

MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid-Telem) said that despite the workload, only police officers should be authorized to hand out fines. Delegating this authority to inspectors would be “wrong and improper,” she said. She said that helpless elderly people should not be obligated to wear a mask.

“There is no cause to raise the fine. First see that you have really done all you can in the existing conditions, and if it’s not working, then move forward. The government is in a panic because it cannot control the event,” Elharrar said, adding that the fines that are collected should be used to assist populations that have been harmed by the corona crisis.

MK Eli Avidar (Yisrael Beitenu) said, “We are protesting the government’s inability to handle the pandemic – so either those who are handling it be replaced, or they should resign. In the Haredi community, fines are issued in a discriminatory fashion, and a video was posted of a mentally-challenged teenager from Dimona who was severely beaten for not wearing a mask. Don’t lend a hand to raising the fine and adding inspectors, because it is the weaker populations who will pay the price.”

MK Michael Malchieli (Shas) called on the state to allocate more resources for explaining to people with special needs about the obligation to wear a mask. Addressing the video showing the teenager in Dimona being beaten, MK Malchieli said, “I am begging police officers, this boy won’t be the same boy again. In Yeruham and Dimona they will arrest, but not in Ra’anana? How do you create equal enforcement? We will vote on something that is very (vague).”

MK Tehila Friedman (Blue&White) said she had been convinced of the need to use inspectors to reinforce the manpower, adding that idea of raising the fine “seems like a whim.”

Advertisement