Israel has had its skies closed to passenger planes for six weeks. At the end of January, the Government closed the Ben Gurion International Airport, in the Tel Aviv area, in order to prevent the spread of new variants of Covid-19 through the main gateway to the country.
Since then, only about 200 travelers have been able to return to the Jewish state each day, in accordance with strict health, family or humanitarian reasons. Tens of thousands of Israelis were stranded abroad, unable to return to their homes due to the unexpected bolt at the air terminal, whose validity has been extended week after week until this Sunday.
“We are ahead of the whole world,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasted on January 25 when the controversial decision was made, “and no other nation had sealed itself hermetically before.” Non-resident foreigners had already been banned from entering Israel since March last year, either for tourism or business.
The veto has now been extended to the citizens themselves – in a measure with few international precedents – who are precisely called to the polls on the 23rd in the fourth legislative elections called in less than two years.
Reports from the Hebrew press – and in particular from a recent investigative program on Channel 12 (private) television – have revealed that hundreds of passengers – the vast majority ultra-Orthodox Jews – landed daily in Ben Gurion while near 25,000 Israelis – almost all secular – had their travel authorization denied by decision of a government committee.
The ultrareligious, whose parties are integrated into the coalition government headed by Netanyahu, declared before the cameras of Channel 12 that intermediaries with political contacts had obtained them permits to return to Israel. They cited reasons such as resuming studies in a yeshiva ( rabbinical school).
The television investigative program also pointed out that the veracity of some medical and administrative documents presented by Jaredis was under suspicion.
In Israel there is no vote by mail (neither by proxy nor in advance), so in each electoral process thousands of residents abroad – estimated at one tenth of the country’s 9.3 million inhabitants – are forced to vote. take a flight to Tel Aviv in order to exercise the right to vote in person. Amid the generalized travel restrictions during the global pandemic, it is foreseeable that there will be a sharp drop in the participation of voters abroad in the decisive elections on the 23rd.
Netanyahu is at stake for re-election and voting intention polls coincide in not granting him a majority in the Knesset (Parliament) along with his ultra-Orthodox and far-right nationalist allies.
In the ultra-proportional Israeli electoral system, a few thousand ballots can decide whether or not a list enters the Chamber, and condition the balance of alliances in each bloc. Within a month, the veteran ruler will also have to face the effective start of his trial for corruption.
Following the dissemination of journalistic investigations into the apparent privileged treatment of the Jaredis at an airport theoretically closed to the bone, the center-left opposition parties denounced an alleged electoral maneuver by the prime minister to obtain votes for the center-right.
The opposition leader in the Knesset, the centrist Yair Lapid, was the first to attack Netanyahu, whom he accused of “using an administrative commission to favor the entry into Israel of voters of the Likud,” the party of the head of the Government. and from allied political formations, according to the Haaretz newspaper .
Lapid demanded the immediate reopening of the Tel Aviv airport for all those who have a negative result in the coronavirus detection tests and are subjected to quarantine.
The so-called Exceptions Committee, which gives the green light to fly to Ben Gurion, reports directly to the Minister of Transport, Miri Regev, Netanyahu’s right-hand man in the apparatus of the first party of the Israeli right. It is led by Shilo Adler, who coordinated the Likud electoral campaign in the 2019 legislative elections.
Civil rights organizations, such as the Institute for Democracy in Israel, have contested as unconstitutional the general closure of the Tel Aviv international airport, which has forced thousands of Israelis to “become refugees in other states.”
In the first session on the challenge petition, the Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Ministry of Health to report on the modalities of prohibition of access to citizens with nationality existing in other countries during the pandemic. The high court is scheduled to settle the matter next week.
Quick reflexes in view of the growing media scandal, Netanyahu this week has brought to the government Cabinet that manages the policy on the health and economic crisis the proposal to partially lift the airport closure as of this Sunday.
The application of the measure has been endorsed in principle by the Executive, coinciding with the beginning of the final phase of the de – escalation of the third general confinement. The entire compulsory education system will once again be face-to-face and bars and restaurants will reopen their doors, after about six months of closure, with just over two weeks left for the legislative elections.
The Israeli Government has now established a daily quota of 3,000 passengers, citizens or permanent residents, with permission to enter the country, although initially the number of authorized travelers will be limited to 1,000.
The electoral commission has yet to establish special voting centers for quarantined voters. Most passengers, who must undergo COVID-19 testing upon arrival in Israel, are placed in solitary confinement for up to 14 days at their homes or in hotels supervised by health authorities.
From this week, travelers who land in Ben Gurion also have the option of wearing an electronic bracelet, like those worn by semi-released prisoners, to monitor their movements during the two weeks in quarantine.
The measure has started as a pilot test for a hundred people. Health officials, however, acknowledge that they lack a sufficient number of monitoring devices and that places in isolation hotels (where it will foreseeably be possible to vote) are also limited, so that a majority of citizens who return to Starting this Sunday, he will have no choice but to confine himself to his home without having yet guaranteed the right to vote.
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The so-called “rescue flights”, emergency air links that have been operational for the past six weeks with European cities, such as Frankfurt, and the United States, such as New York, have allegedly been monopolized by travelers from the ultra-Orthodox community, which represents a 12% of the Israeli population.
The only way of repatriation for other citizens trapped abroad has been excluded. Many of them had requested permission to return to Israel in order to care for sick relatives or to visit terminally ill others for the last time.
Amid the complex balance between the right to health protection in the face of the pandemic, with restrictive safeguard measures, and the right of citizens to freedom of movement, and above all to return to their own home, the controversy has broken out once again on the eve of a crucial election for Israel.