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Rules governing the legislative process in Israel are “almost entirely regulated by the parliament’s internal rules, rather than statutes or constitutional norms.” The Knesset’s (Israel’s parliament’s) oversight responsibilities over government activities during a state of emergency, however, are clearly enumerated under Basic Law: The Government.
Knesset operations during the COVID-19 crisis have been on hold because of the complex political situation in Israel. Following a general election held on March 2, 2020, the third election within 11 months, the Knesset continued serving based on the principle of continuity. Following the swearing in of the 23rd Knesset on March 16, 2020, the majority of members requested the election of a new Knesset Speaker and the establishment of Knesset committees, actions ordered by the Supreme Court as extraordinary measures to preserve the parliamentary system of government in Israel and its democratic foundations.
This report describes the rules that govern Knesset operations during time of emergency, the requirements of Knesset oversight for the issuance of emergency regulations during such time, and the particular circumstances that led to compliance with these requirements. As developments are ongoing, the information contained in the report is updated to the morning of March 25, 2020 (US time).
II. Rules on Knesset Operations During State of Emergency
A. Knesset Authority to Issue, Extend or Revoke a Declaration of State of Emergency
Basic Law: The Government provides the Knesset the authority to declare, on its own initiative or under a government proposal, that a state of emergency exists. If it is not possible to convene the Knesset, the government may declare a state of emergency without Knesset approval. While a Knesset declaration has a possible duration of one year, a declaration by the government will expire within seven days from issue, unless approved or revoked before its expiration by the Knesset or by a decision of a majority of its members, or if there is a renewed government declaration in the event the Knesset cannot convene.
B. Knesset Oversight Regarding Issuance of Emergency Regulations
The Basic Law provides the government far-reaching powers during a state of emergency to issue regulations that may alter or temporarily suspend any law’s effect or introduce conditions for its implementation, for the stated objectives of “the defense of the State, public security and the maintenance of supplies and essential services.”
The regulations must be submitted to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee at the earliest possible date after their enactment. However, if the Prime Minister “deem[s] it impossible to convene the Knesset, given the existence of an immediate and critical need to make emergency regulations, he may make such regulations or empower a Minister to make them.”
Emergency regulations will remain in effect for a period of three months after their issuance but may be extended or revoked by the Knesset by a law, or in accordance with a decision of a majority of the members of the Knesset, and may remain in force no longer than 60 days after the termination of the state of emergency, unless extended by law.
The Knesset rules lay out the roles of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and the “Joint Committee” in which it serves along with the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee in overseeing the issuance and implementation of a declaration of a state of emergency and emergency regulations.
C. Challenges to Knesset Operations During COVID-19 Pandemic
The current 23rd Knesset was sworn in on March 16, 2020, in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic and under the Ministry of Health’s guidelines that prohibited gatherings of more than 10 persons. The swearing in of the new Knesset’s 120 members (KMs) following the March 2, 2020, election was done in 40 rounds of three members at a time. Until a new government is sworn in, based on the principle of “continuity of government,” the outgoing government headed by Prime Minister (PM) Binyamin Netanyahu continues to serve as a transitional government.
On March 15 and 17, 2020, PM Netanyahu’s transitional government approved a series of far-reaching regulations to address the spread of the coronavirus. They include emergency regulations that allow, among other things, the use of digital surveillance by the General Security Service (GSS Emergency Regulations), and provide expanded search authority to the Israel Police to combat the spread of COVID-19.
On March 18, 2020, Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein extended the application of the Public Health (Novel Coronavirus) (Home Isolation and Other Provisions) (Temporary Order) 5780-2020, as amended, to Knesset members and employees for a period of 14 days. These regulations include a prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people in one room and requiring a distance of two meters (approximately 6.56 feet) between participants. Edelstein noted that the order affects the manner in which Knesset committees operate but not the frequency.
That same day, against a request of the majority of KMs to elect a new Speaker and begin the process of forming committees in the newly sworn-in Knesset for purpose of exercising parliamentary oversight over implementation of measures addressing COVID-19, Edelstein halted proceedings of the plenum and adjourned Parliament until March 23, 2020. On March 23, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered Edelstein to convene the Knesset plenum for the purpose of appointing a new Knesset Speaker for the 23rd Knesset at the earliest possible time and no later than March 25, 2020. Edelstein resigned from his post as Speaker on March 25, 2020. Against the advice of the Knesset legal adviser, he refused to schedule a vote for his replacement before his resignation, in violation of the Court’s order.
The absence of parliamentary oversight over the government-issued emergency regulations has been one of the arguments in a petition to the High Court of Justice against the validity of the regulations. On March 19, 2020, the Court issued a temporary injunction voiding the emergency regulations granting the GSS digital surveillance authorities starting March 24, 2020, unless relevant Knesset committees are established to enable parliamentary oversight of implementation of the regulations. The Court clarified that, in the event a decision was made to impose a general closure before March 24, 2020, it would re-examine the need for the authorities given to the GSS under the regulations and adapt the injunction to the situation.
In compliance with the Court’s order, on March 24, 2020, the Knesset plenary approved the creation of the “Arrangements Committee.” The establishment of this committee is essential for continued parliamentary work as the committee is authorized to
. . . submit for the Knesset’s approval a proposal relating to the makeup of the standing committees. Until the standing committees are established, the Arrangements Committee may appoint provisional committees for financial matters and for matters related to foreign affairs and defense.
Until the appointment of the House Committee, the Arrangements Committee shall hold all of the House Committee’s powers relating to rules of procedure and Knesset sittings.
Following the establishment of the Arrangement Committee and that of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Supreme Court has reportedly approved the GSS Emergency Regulations.
In addition to establishing the Arrangement Committee and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, the Knesset approved four additional temporary Knesset committees. These include a committee on fighting the coronavirus. The committee’s chair announced that it would concentrate on “three key areas of the crisis—health, economic, and governmental.”
Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
 Ittai Bar-Siman-Tov, The Law of Lawmaking, 37 Tel Aviv U. L. Rev. 645 (2016) (in Hebrew), cited by the same author in Parliamentary Activity and Legislative Oversight During the Coronavirus Pandemic—A Comparative Overview 3, ResearchGate (Mar. 22, 2020), https://perma.cc/7D8U-T6GP.
 Id. § 38.
 § 38(c).
 § 39(c).
 § 39(a-b).
 § 39(f-h).
 Basic Law: The Government, § 30.
 Ruth Levush, Israel: Emergency Regulations Authorize Digital Surveillance of Coronavirus Patients and Persons Subjected to Home Isolation, Global Legal Monitor (Mar. 18, 2020), https://perma.cc/G7YP-YDA4.
 Jonathan Lis, Speaker Adjourns Parliament, Israeli President Warns Him Against ‘Undermining Democracy,’ Haareetz.com (Mar. 19, 2020), https://perma.cc/D5DR-DHMJ; For the political background of the Speaker’s decision, see Ittai Bar-Siman Tov, Parliamentary Activity and Legislative Oversight During the Coronavirus Pandemic—A Comparative Overview, supra note 1, at 5.
 HC 2144/20 Movement for Quality of Governance in Israel et al. v. Knesset Speaker, the Knesset, the Knesset Legal Adviser and the Likud Party, https://perma.cc/3FKS-MZDS); Ruth Levush, Israel: Supreme Court Rules Coronavirus Pandemic Does Not Justify Delay in Electing a Knesset Speaker, Global Legal Monitor, (forthcoming Mar. 2020).
 See Updated Information by the Knesset Legal Adviser to the Supreme Court (March 25, 2020), https://perma.cc/NC3T-LMCU, linked from Moran Azulai et al., Edelstein Informed Me that He Refused to Follow the Court Decision, YNET (Mar. 25, 2020), https://perma.cc/FK84-RY4W.
 Id. para. 4(c).
Last Updated: 12/30/2020