Israel Extends COVID-19 Special Powers Law Until February 2024

By Lia Onely
Lia Onely
Lia Onely
Lia Onely reports for The Epoch Times from Israel.
February 15, 2023Updated: February 15, 2023

Israel’s Parliament has approved an extension of special powers for the Ministry of Health (MoH) to deal with COVID-19 for one more year until Feb. 15, 2024.

The parliament, known as the Knesset, passed a new law that extends the ability of the government to impose restrictions on the public for another year.

“The Plenum of the Knesset approved in second and third reading the bill for special powers to deal with the new coronavirus (temporary provision),” Yakutiel Safri, a spokesperson for the Knesset, said in a statement provided to The Epoch Times.

The so-called Great Coronavirus Law would have expired on Feb. 15 if not extended. It was enacted originally in July 2020 and has been updated and extended multiple times.

The government claimed the extension was necessary due to an increase in the circulation of Omicron sub-strains, which have high infectivity compared to previous strains. Officials also cited how drugs are less effective against the newer variants, as well as trends in morbidity around the world—especially in China.

“In the assessment of the professionals in the Ministry of Health, due to the uncertainty in the health systems in the world and concern for the possibility of a sharp change in the epidemiological situation, continued careful surveillance is required, and even more so, due to the recent developments in the morbidity situation in China, therefore the existence of the legal infrastructure that allows actions to be taken under the law cannot be waived,” Safri said.

The bill was introduced to the Knesset on Jan. 30 for first reading. It passed to the Health Committee on Feb. 6. After strong objections were raised, the bill was significantly narrowed and the committee examined it again on Feb. 7. It went back to the plenum of the Knesset, where it passed on Feb. 14 with a vote of 51–37.

“Like thieves in the night(!) the government brought to vote today at 1 a.m. the extension of the special power law for a year!” wrote Oren Pasternak, an attorney and founder of Sovereign Protest, which has filed freedom of information requests challenging the MoH’s lockdowns, restrictions, and green passport.

Epoch Times Photo
Uriel Buso, chairman of the health committee of the Israeli Knesset at a meeting to discuss special powers to deal with COVID-19 in Jerusalem on Feb. 6, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

A Legal Framework

The MoH faced significant resistance to the bill as it was originally presented at the Health Committee on Feb. 6. After discussions with the Chairman of the Health Committee Uriel Buso, the MoH agreed to reduce the powers granted in a number of sections.

They kept a legal framework that would allow the government to declare a “special health situation.” This will allow the government to exercise powers to deal with situations such as the arrival of “new and violent variants from abroad,” Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of Public Health Services at the Israel Ministry of Health, said during the meeting.

“The World Health Organization has not lowered the level of international concern. We are mainly concerned about things that will come from abroad with a virus that is still changing, and unstable,” said Alroy-Preis. “We need to be prepared for a more violent strain than the Omicron that exists today.”

The law in its current version allows the government the authority to declare a “special health situation” but not the authority to declare “a state of emergency” as it previously allowed.

Many sections the MoH initially requested were removed from the bill, including those allowing the government to impose a general lockdown; set limits on gatherings and events; close businesses and educational and welfare institutions; impose isolation in hotels; declare restricted areas or special tourist areas; and the requirement to present a test or a green passport when entering public places.

Some sections were retained, including one enabling the government, when declaring a special health situation, to establish regulations requiring those entering Israel to undergo a test before or after entering the country and to prevent entry from those whose test has been found positive. The government can also require the operator of an aircraft or vessel to force passengers to present a negative test result before boarding the vessel on their way to or from Israel, as well as the obligation to collect information from the passengers that will enable the government to contact them if they are found to be infected.

“Yesterday, the text of the law was put before us without any changes,” Tatiana Mazarsky, a member of the opposition Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, said on Feb. 7. “In the end, we changed a lot and I insist even now that an extension of only three months is necessary.”

“So that there is no situation where we have to enact the pandemic law quickly or do it patch by patch; we will extend the law by a year,” replied Buso, referring to a new pandemic law on which MoH officials said they’re working.

The government also still has the authority to impose isolation when needed and use technological supervision. Technological supervision refers to an app where a user who is in quarantine, if they agree, clicks a link that discloses their location in real-time, providing proof of compliance with quarantine requirements.

Epoch Times Photo
The Israeli Knesset Health Committee meeting to discuss special powers to deal with COVID-19 in Jerusalem on Feb. 6, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

Technological Real-Time Supervision

Many concerns about the excessive powers granted to the Ministry of Health (MoH) were raised during the discussions.

Representatives of the police and the Ministry of National Security presented to the Health Committee the tools they had at their disposal during prior waves of COVID-19.

Yair Matok, a legal advisor from the Ministry of National Security said that each individual was given the option to agree or refuse technological monitoring.

Those who refused were subject to face-to-face supervision by police. He said that the monitoring was real-time, instant, and not ongoing.

This was an important tool that greatly facilitates and reduces the burden on enforcement agencies, said Gad Frishman, chief scientist of the Ministry of National Security.

In response to a question from Mazarsky about how effective the tool was, Frishman said that from all the people that had to be in isolation, 30 percent agreed to receive the link and 15 percent gave their consent to receive a link and later actually confirmed their location.

“This tool of technological supervision does not fit with the existing circumstances,” said Hagai Levine, chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians in Israel, at the meeting on Feb. 7. Only a small number of people will be checked, so there is no need for this tool to reduce the burden on the police.

“Why are we turning the medical system into a policeman?” he asked, adding that he was concerned that allowing it to pass would damage public trust.

Buso said that when you have the possibility of imposing isolation, you “need to leave tools to carry it out and enforce it.”

“Yesterday I presented data that the lethality rates of the Omicron strains is less than a tenth of that of the flu strains. No one thinks to require isolation or flu tests. … here it is not relevant and harms public trust,” said Pasternak.

“This is a framework law, which in practice has not been implemented since June,” said Alroy-Preis, adding that the MoH was following the situation worldwide. Since then, they found that the morbidity of the Omicron strains had come down, and did not use the law and the powers it gives.

“That is why statements according to which we are trying to preserve the law as a means of control have been proven to be incorrect,” she said, adding that as of today it is only important for the MoH to have the option.

“There is no quick activation of the law simply because it exists,” she said.

Epoch Times Photo
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of Public Health Services at the Israel Ministry of Health at the Health Committee meeting to discuss special powers to deal with COVID-19 in Jerusalem on Feb. 6, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

‘No Excess Deaths’

A homeopath guest participated in the Health Committee meeting via Zoom and asked a question.

“What is happening with the different reports about young people that are dying from cardiac arrest? About people that are getting strokes?” asked Tamar Lieberman.

It’s because many people “are being hurt from the vaccine,” she asserted, before asking about miscarriages and stillbirths. In June 2022, when Dr. Mati Berkovitch presented data about adverse events in Israel during a secret meeting, he told the MoH that they needed to think in a medico-legal way. “Why was this discussion not published?” she asked.

The Epoch Times reported in 2022 that investigators hired by the MoH had discovered that the COVID-19 vaccines cause adverse events.

The phenomenon of rechallenge—when adverse events reoccur or worsen following additional vaccine doses—proved that some of the events were caused by the vaccine, the researchers said during the meeting, which took place behind closed doors.

A positive rechallenge was reported in 10 percent of the women who complained of menstrual issues, according to the researchers, who also identified cases of rechallenge for other adverse events.

Rechallenge changes a causal link “from possible to definitive,” Berkovitch, head of the research team and a pediatric specialist, said in the meeting, video of which was later published after being leaked to a journalist.

The MoH established a system where every person that got a vaccine could report side effects, Alroy-Preis said in response to Lieberman. So the team that was mentioned in the video was Berkovitch’s team.

Portions of what he said were taken and used to create “fake news,” Alroy-Preis said, adding that the slides presented during the meeting and all the raw data from the team are on the MoH website.

False Information

The MoH has repeatedly declined to comment to The Epoch Times about the video and also did not return queries from Yaffa Shir-Raz, a health journalist and professor who obtained the video.

An unnamed official at the MoH in October 2022 confirmed that the video was legitimate in remarks to Reuters, which posted a “fact check” on clips of the meeting that Shir-Raz had posted online and in social media posts.

The MoH official claimed that “there are no unknown side effects or new signals.”

But according to Sasha Zhurat, one of the presenters in the video, that’s not true.

Zhurat said during the meeting that the data “allowed us to really identify new phenomena like tinnitus, like hypoesthesia and paresthesia” and that “we actually identified new phenomena that do not appear in the consumer brochure such as dizziness, tinnitus, hypoesthesia, paresthesia.”

Zhurat also pointed out that the brochure, handed to prospective vaccine recipients, listed certain durations for possible side effects.

The leaflet says the problems are “supposed to pass within a few days and we saw that this was not the case,” said Zhurat. Some problems lasted for more than a year, including menstrual irregularities, with no end in sight.

Reuters judged the video clips in the “fact check” as “misleading,” but a spokesperson for the news agency later confirmed that the outlet did not watch the full video of the meeting.

Alroy-Preis said to the Health Committee that it is known that “the vaccine does not cause miscarriage, does not cause a problem with fertility.”

More than 12,000 people died in Israel because of COVID-19, she said. “There are no excess deaths in the State of Israel, not even of young people,” she claimed.

“Is there no increase in cardiac arrest cases among young people? Can you deny this?” asked Pasternak.

“Cardiac arrest is not a diagnosis. It is a clinical state. It is like fever. It means the heart stopped working. It can stop working for many reasons,” Alroy-Preis said.

We do not see an increase in death in young people when you remove the COVID-19 deaths, she said. “We’re checking it,” she said. “We’re looking for it.”

Zachary Stieber and Meiling Lee contributed to this report.