Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit lambasted Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s directive not to vaccinate prisoners in a Friday letter calling for the order to be rescinded immediately and warning that the government would not defend the position in the High Court of Justice.
“I would like to emphasize that the duty to act in accordance with the law applies at all times and does not depend on pending petitions,” Mandelblit wrote, referencing the legal challenges to the minister’s directive that will be heard by the High Court on Tuesday.
Highlighting reports of an uptick in coronavirus cases in the Israel Prisons Services facilities, the attorney general said there was “real urgency” for prisoners to be inoculated in accordance with the Health Ministry’s policy, which on Sunday will begin vaccinating all Israelis over the age of 45. For the past several weeks, those above the age of 55 have been allowed to vaccinate.
“Your injunction suffers from a clear lack of authority and is contrary to the requirements of the law,” Mandelblit wrote, adding that the position is also contrary to that of the Health Ministry.
On Thursday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that Israel will start vaccinating all prisoners next week, including Palestinian security prisoners being held in Israeli correctional facilities, despite Ohana’s order.
“We adhere to all of the priority committee’s guidelines,” Edelstein said while visiting a vaccination center in the central city of Ramle, referring to the Health Ministry panel tasked with setting national policy vaccination priorities.
Speaking Thursday, Edelstein said: “I’m not going to differentiate and check which vaccine went to the jailer and which went to the prisoner.”
Castigating Ohana, a fellow member of the Likud party, Edelstein added, “Instead of arguing, imagine how a prisoner might not be vaccinated [and get sick] and then medical staff and equipment might need to be wasted on them.”
Ohana has also been called out for the stance by a host of rights groups as well as President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Benny Gantz. He has defended himself, saying the policy is designed to prevent security prisoners from receiving the vaccination before all other Israelis have.
Ohana has also demanded that his position be defended in the High Court by someone other than Mandelblit and in interviews with Hebrew media has scoffed at the attorney general’s authority.
In his Friday letter, Mandelblit told Ohana that the minister would not receive alternative representation at the Tuesday High Court hearing as he had failed to provide a single legal justification for his position.
More than 150 prisoners and 160 guards have tested positive this week alone — the largest outbreak since the start of the pandemic, Haaretz reported.