COVID-19 Special Coverage
Israel Supreme Court intervenes in Netanyahu’s alleged power grab amidst COVID-19
© WikiMedia (US State Department)
Israel Supreme Court intervenes in Netanyahu’s alleged power grab amidst COVID-19

The Israeli Supreme Court on Sunday intervened against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s alleged attempt to seize power under the guise of combating COVID-19.

The Supreme Court ordered Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein to put forth a motion in Parliament. Edelstein refused to hold a vote because it would likely lead to his removal and lead to legislation that would prevent Netanyahu from proceeding with future elections until the corruption trial is settled.

The petitioners to the Supreme Court echoed recent protests and make three main claims against Netanyahu. The first is that Netanyahu’s decision to close the courts on March 15 was corrupt. Before the closure, Netanyahu was scheduled to begin court hearings last week on charges of corruption, fraud, breach of trust and bribery.

The second claim is against Netanyahu’s authorization to track private cellphone records to trace the spread of COVID-19. On March 16, Netanyahu authorized the Internal Security Agency to use cellphone records to retrace movements of infected people. The move was aimed to learn who the infected people contacted and who may need to be quarantined as a result of the contact. Similar measures were previously used to track terrorist movements. This action would normally be approved by The Knesset’s Secret Services Subcommittee, but the subcommittee ended deliberations without a vote before the new Parliament was scheduled to be sworn in; Monday, March 16 at 4 PM. Netanyahu’s opponents believe this paralysis has only worsened the nation’s political deadlock resulting from three inconclusive elections.

Since the initial outbreak in Israel, Netanyahu closed schools, commercial establishments, dine-in restaurants, and parks/beaches as well as restricting public movements and gatherings to a maximum of four people with at least two meters apart. The restrictions extended to public transportation and shopping centers, which were allowed to remain open as long as they complied with the Health Ministry’s regulations, Netanyahu explained. On Tuesday, Netanyahu announced using the head of Mossad – Israel’s intelligence agency – to aid in fighting the virus, alongside the Ministry of Defense, the Israel Defense Forces, Ministry of Health, Ministry of the Treasury, and Ministry of Justice.

The third main claim is that Netanyahu’s ally, Speaker Edelstein, blocked a key vote to replace the speaker in Parliament, who cited public health concerns.

Edelstein responded on Facebook:

Choosing a new [speaker] … at this time, before establishing the government, will completely prevent any chance of establishing a wide unity government. Contrary to cynical politicians who use a severe health crisis that threatens us all. I hope that the Supreme Court will understand the importance … for strictly maintaining the law of the Knesset.

Though both supporters and opponents believe Netanyahu’s measures helped prevent the spread COVID-19 in Israel, his opponents emphasize that the measures were ill-timed given his other corruption charges.

For more on COVID-19, see our special coverage.