The Israeli government ruled that it will engage in surveillance of its citizens in an effort to ensure that people are following measures against the coronavirus.
Israeli government ministers unanimously approved the move on the evening of March 17 and the practice will continue for the next 14 days. The Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, told The Jerusalem Post that had begun the surveillance process, although the Israeli police will be tasked with enforcing Israel’s measures against the spread of the coronavirus.
Shin Bet head Nadav Argaman said in a statement, “I want to make it clear that the sensitivities around this matter are entirely clear to me and that therefore I have only allowed a very small group of agency officials to be a part of this matter and that the information will not be saved in the Shin Bet’s databases.”
Blue and White Party Member of the Knesset (MK) Gabi Ashkenazi, who chairs the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, criticized the surveillance move.
“The Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee only started discussing the matter yesterday and was not able to hold the discussion in a serious way and complete it,” Ashkenazi said. “It is unacceptable to approve the use of such a measure in this way, with no parliamentary or public oversight.”
Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief political rival, similarly said in a statement, “We cannot surrender transparency and oversight.”
Netanyahu defended the move in a statement from his office, arguing that the measure would have been delayed for days in the Knesset and Israel can’t afford to lose any time to contain the virus.
“Delaying the use of these tools by even one hour could lead to the deaths of a great many Israelis, as occurred with the deaths of thousands in Italy and other places around the world,” the statement read.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit similarly said in a statement “that the situation was becoming so acute that the country could no longer wait for parliamentary approval,” per the Post.
Also on March 17, the Israeli government announced that Israelis could not leave their homes for any reason unless it’s for essential needs like groceries or medicine. The elderly or those with compromised immune systems should not leave their home at all under the government’s restrictions. The Israeli Health Ministry argued these restrictions are necessary since Israelis were unable to self-police and follow the ministry’s guidelines.
According to the Post, the Israeli government is implementing such measures because the Israeli medical system is unequipped to handle a wide outbreak of the virus, as hospitals and laboratories are understaffed with an occupancy rate that was already high before the coronavirus pandemic.
There are currently 324 people in Israel who have tested positive for coronavirus; five of them are in serious condition.