Today, Israel’s Knesset Speaker, Likud veteran, Yuli Edelstein, resigned rather than follow a Supreme Court directive to convene the legislative body. He had adjourned it with the excuse that the Covid-19 epidemic rendered it too dangerous to meet. The Court had ordered him to reopen proceedings to elect a new Blue and White Speaker. But in the event of a suspended Knesset and with no Speaker in place, there is no formal way to reconvene and carry out the business of state; no legislative procedure to replace a Speaker who resigns his post while it is adjourned.
Blue and White, which has 61 seats and should be forming a new government, has appealed to the Supreme Court to resolve this and a number of other Likud rear-guard skirmishing actions designed to sabotage ongoing political processes. Since the Court has ruled against the Likud in several of these matters, presumably it will also find that the Speaker has exceeded his authority, and restore to the Knesset majority the ability to reopen it and resume affairs of government.
In the past few hours, the Supreme Court ruled that the vote for a new Speaker must happen tomorrow. It has appointed the longest-serving MK, Amir Peretz, to be interim Speaker for the purpose of bringing the body back into session and initiating the vote.
Until it does, this leaves Netanyahu in power as a rump prime minister with no legal authority. Nevertheless, he has assumed these powers de facto for himself. The goal seems to be to force B&W into a unity government with Likud with Netanyahu retaining the PM job for the next 18 months. Clearly, the presumptive incoming majority doesn’t want this option.
The Siren-Call of Mass Surveillance in Time of Pandemic
Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote the classic, Love in the Time of Cholera. In today’s dystopian world, we face a cholera-like pandemic. But instead of love, we face fear, mistrust, ignorance, and authoritarianism. Woe betide us.
As I reported yesterday European countries seem to be taking a cue from Israel’s draconian, intrusive surveillance measures to monitor Covid19 victims and their social contacts, forcing them into quarantine using secret databases and geolocation measures. Israel’s are among the most extreme contemplated by any “democratic” country. This has the effect of validating Israel’s surveillance state measures and creating new precedents for violating privacy and citizens’ rights throughout the west.
For example, Reuters reports on this new app being tested by the Defense Ministry could be used to detect Covid 19 victims using samples of their voice:
Starting this week, an Israeli startup company working with hospitals and academic institutions will sample voices of confirmed coronavirus patients through a mobile application in a research project led by the ministry.
“These voice samples will be analyzed using an AI (Artificial Intelligence)-based algorithm in order to identify the unique vocal ‘fingerprint’, the ministry said in a statement.
Comparing voices of potential victims with actual victims could, so the developer claims, find new ones who haven’t yet exhibited symptoms, doing so either without a formal medical test or in concert with one.
But this method is rife with potential violations of human and civil rights. If it is used solely in a medical context in a hospital or by medical staff, that would be one thing. But what if the Shabak, which maintains a database of every Israeli citizen including personal information, added individual voice samples to the database. It could easily do this, because it has the cell phone numbers of every Israeli. It also possesses the capability of using these numbers to either download voice files or record the cell phone owner speaking on his device. That, in turn, could be used to identify potential Covid 19 victims even without their direct consent or knowledge.
For anyone who believes this is far-fetched, until this week no Israeli even knew the Shabak had compiled this secret database, let alone used it in criminal or national security cases. There is a common saying: whatever can go wrong will go wrong. In the case of Israel’s secret police, whatever it can do it will do. Whatever right it can abrogate, it will violate.
Further, what happens in the case of the app detecting false positives: people whose voices are identified as having the illness, but who don’t actually have it? If you immediately place these individuals and all those who’ve had social contact with them into quarantine, and do so in error, you are infringing on their personal freedom in an egregious manner.
In an era of pandemic, everyone seeks a magic bullet. Everyone seeks certainty and safety. But there are reasonable, civilized ways to achieve these ends. And there are shortcuts which lead us down a path to ruin; in which, to quote our president: the cure is worse than the illness; the solution worse than the problem it is meant to solve. Buyer beware!