After AG Mandelblit Invalidates Earlier Vote, Cabinet Agrees to Extend Lockdown

YERUSHALAYIM -
Attorney General of Israel, Avichai Mandelblit. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

After midnight on Thursday night, the cabinet voted unanimously to extend Israel’s national lockdown until 7 a.m on Sunday. This followed a ruling by the attorney general voiding the first vote to impose the lockdown, followed angry exchanges between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

The compromise deal which gained unanimous consent will extend the lockdown until Sunday morning, at which time travel limits will be lifted, businesses that do not cater to the public will be able to reopen, and restaurant takeout services will be allowed as well as some businesses. Parks will reopen and vacation rentals will be allowed to single family units.

A decision on opening kindergartens will be made following discussions between the Health and Education Ministries.

Netanyahu hailed the compromise, saying there had only been minor changes to the initial Health Ministry proposal.

“As more people get vaccinated, with an emphasis on the over 50s, we will be able to gradually, carefully, and responsibly open up the economy,” he said.

Earlier in the evening, in an abrupt ruling handed down after midnight in Yerushalayim, Attorney General Avichai Madelblit overturned the decision of the cabinet to extend Israel’s national lockdown until Sunday night, since the coalition agreement required that the decision be unanimous, the Times of Israel reported.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his fellow Blue and White Ministers objected to the extension during an angry government meeting.

Mandelblit stated that he was not blocking the lockdown extension, but merely ruling on the law as agreed to by the two parties in the coalition agreement.

Blue and White party demanded that a clear exit plan presented to the public, while Netanyahu and the Health Ministry are reluctant to specifically commit to such a plan.

Netanyahu advocated to extend the lockdown until Sunday at midnight, but Blue and White voted against it. When they appealed to Mandelblit, he canceled the vote, leaving the current status of the lockdown uncertain.

A furious Netanyahu accused Gantz and Madelblit of colluding.

Netanyahu condemned the Blue and White ministers after the vote. “You are bringing death to the people,” Ynet quoted Netanyahu as saying. “This is a clear political exercise of yours. The responsibility for the lives of the people is yours.”

Ran Nizri,a deputy of Mandelblit, urged the ministers to reach an agreement. “Don’t bring us to chaos,” he said.

Minutes before the vote, the Health Ministry announced that Israel had passed the grim milestone of 5,000 dead.

Ministry figures showed that there were 1,040 people in serious condition and 7,439 new cases reported Wednesday. Israel has struggled to bring its cases down despite its advanced vaccination drive.

By Thursday evening 3,369,379 people had received one dose, of whom 1,965,657 had received both doses.

Gantz wanted the government to immediately remove the current ban on traveling more than a kilometer from one’s home, allow businesses with in-person service to reopen, and for schools along with businesses abiding by health guidelines to start reopening next week.