High Court opens Ben-Gurion Airport, but only 3 days before election

2021-03-17 23:47:13

The High Court of Justice on Wednesday declared as unconstitutional the government’s limit of 3,000 people per day to enter Ben-Gurion Airport to limit coronavirus transmission, but delayed its ruling to such an extent that there will only be two days without limits before the election.

The background to the fight is that the state has been limiting how many overseas Israeli citizens could return to the country in time for Election Day on March 23.

Though technically the ruling is a win for the Movement of Quality Government in Israel, the fact that the justices dragged their feet on the issue for weeks – and appear to be allowing the government policy to continue through this Saturday – significantly limits the practical extent to which overseas Israeli citizens will be able to take advantage of returning to vote.

High Court President Esther Hayut, Justice Neal Hendel and Justice Yitzhak Amit also at least temporarily removed restrictions on Israelis wanting to fly out of the country even if they have not yet been vaccinated or recovered from corona. 

It was unclear though whether those restrictions on flying out of the country might not return if infection rates spike again at some point since the justices left the government an opening to potentially reimpose certain restrictions that had clearer benchmarks and expiration dates.

A legal brief by the state to the High Court on Monday revealed that 1,879 overseas Israelis are stranded and waiting to find out if they will get into the country in time to vote in next week’s election.

The brief was filed as part of an ongoing legal fight over whether the government can maintain limits on how many overseas Israelis can come into the country in anticipation of Election Day.

Despite already issuing two interim orders to pressure the government over the issue, which has been before the court since early last week, the justices did not issue a final order until Wednesday.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel said earlier this week that with the state finally showing more flexibility about which overseas locations can send flights to Israel and with the limited number of 1,879 Israelis who want to come to vote, it saw no reason why the state is maintaining a 3,000 person-per-day limit.

In other words, the movement said the 3,000 people-per-day limit seemed unnecessary given that the demand for overseas Israelis who want to come to vote is significantly less than that.

At the same time, the NGO rejected the limit on principle, continuing to note that no other country is putting such limits on its citizens returning home, let alone for the purpose of exercising their fundamental right to vote.

It was unclear if the High Court decided to drag out its decision until it was so close to Election Day so that its order to open Ben Gurion to overseas Israelis would be too late and have little impact, if the justices thought the state had already shown enough new flexibility or if they were worried about being blamed for a potential fourth coronavirus wave.

 LAST WEEK, the court seemed to signal that it would rule against the government and order Ben-Gurion Airport to be fully opened to overseas Israeli citizens who wish to vote in the March 23 election.

The justices last week issued a conditional interim order demanding the government explain by this past Sunday why it was legal for it to limit the amount and schedule of Israeli voters who want to come into the country to vote.

The aggressive schedule set by the court – which stated that the government must respond by 11:30 a.m. last Sunday and the petitioners must counter no later than 2:30 p.m. – suggested that the justices might rule by Sunday afternoon or evening. Late Sunday evening, the justices ordered the state to provide a Monday update regarding the number of stranded Israelis.

However, they held off on ruling until Wednesday and delayed until Saturday for their order to go into effect, showing hesitation about how much their order might impact the coronavirus trends nationwide and appearing concerned about later being blamed for causing a fourth wave and fourth lockdown.

Early last week, multiple parties filed a petition with the High Court demanding that it order the government to allow back into the country all Israelis overseas who want to return to vote in the upcoming election.

The petition said that the recent government expansion of how many Israelis can return was inadequate as it is limited to 1,000 per day at certain points with a maximum on some days of 3,000.

This is not the only petition the movement has filed regarding entry controversies at Ben-Gurion Airport.

Two weeks ago, it filed a petition to compel the government to publicize its decision-making process for granting special permits to enter the country through Ben-Gurion during the recent lockdown.

The movement warned “there is a suspicion that the decisions were made with preference to people who have special connections in the corridors of power.”

According to the NGO, the special committee for granting exemptions must publicize in detail the justifications for its various decisions in order to confront allegations of “systematic discrimination” and “giving preference to certain sectors.”

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Source by [earlynews24.com]