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August 4, 2020 2:08 pm
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Knesset Considers Reopening Air Travel, as Israeli Officials Debate COVID-19 Restrictions

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Passengers wearing masks push trolleys at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, May 14, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

The Knesset’s coronavirus committee met on Tuesday to consider reopening air travel to Israel, while Israel’s health minister expressed opposition to imposing weekend closures.

The issue of air travel shot to the top of the public agenda on Tuesday after thousands of foreign students were controversially approved to enter Israel.

The Israeli news site N12 reported that the committee’s chairwoman, Yifat Shasha-Biton, said, “There should be one law for everyone. … If 16,000 students enter, we need to find a way to let everyone in.”

“We need to remember that it is not just about Ben-Gurion Airport and the tourists,” she noted, “but there are a lot of circles of people who make a living from this world [of travel] and we must take care of their livelihoods.”

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Shasha-Biton said that a plan for reopening the skies would be sent to the government’s “Corona Cabinet” within days, and discussions were underway with 10 countries to mutually withdraw restrictions on entry.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri spoke out strongly in favor of allowing entry to Jews on Monday after the storm of controversy over letting students in.

“The State of Israel is the national home of all the Jews in the world,” he said. “A mother does not tell her children that I do not have the strength to accept you. We continue to accept them all.”

“These students have one chance in life to come to Israel,” he added. “This is our best tool to fight assimilation.”

Also on Tuesday, N12 reported, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein visited the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon and voiced opposition to imposing partial closures on the country.

Referring to suggested weekend closures, Edelstein said, “There is no proof that closing on weekends works. Other than disturbing the public, it does nothing.”

However, Edelstein warned, the situation remained critical.

“Right now, we have managed to curb the rise in the numbers of corona patients,” he said, “but we can say that we will not be able to live long with these numbers. We have to flatten the curve.”

“All of these things depend on the proper behavior of the Israeli public,” Edelstein continued, pointing out that masks and social distancing were the only ways to beat the pandemic.

During a visit to a Home Front Command post on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed Edelstein’s words, saying, “Without following the rules of public hygiene, we have no chance of succeeding. The elimination of the disease is in our hands. We must tighten adherence to the rules.”

Israel — with a population of around 9 million —  has seen around 68,000 coronavirus infections and 500 fatalities.

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