Health Minister Yuli Edelstein Monday evening struck down a bill that would allow hotels in the Southern resort town of Eilat and the Dead Sea to open.
Edelstein objected to the addition of the words "anywhere else" to the wording of the bill, which would lift coronavirus restrictions from other places that meet the criteria specified in the bill.
The Likud minister raised his concerns at the Knesset plenum that other places across the country will use the law to skirt coronavirus restrictions and asked the words to be removed from the bill.
After encountering backlash from other lawmakers in attendance, he struck down the bill altogether.
"Populist members of Knesset have taken Eilat hostage for whims that endanger public health," Edelstein said. "Suddenly, everyone is a self-appointed epidemiologist or health expert."
Eilat, located at Israel's southernmost point and whose economy relies heavily on tourism, has been hit the hardest than any other place in Israel from the economic turmoil beget by the coronavirus pandemic, exceeding 70% unemployment at one point.
"I submitted the bill in cooperation with the mayor of Eilat to save it," Edelstein continued. "I said in advance that I would not allow anyone to take advantage of this to bring about wantonness when it comes to health. Once [the bill] reached Knesset, other areas were added to it and other dangerous suggestions. Unfortunately, populism has won. I will bring back the bill with criteria that will not endanger the residents of Eilat and the residents of the rest of the country."
The original bill, as approved by the government, designated only Eilat and the Ein Bokek region on the Dead Sea as special tourism zones due to their distance from other population centers across the country.
The wording approved by the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee sought to designate additional areas as special tourist zones as well on condition they meet the criteria set out in the proposal.
Eilat Mayor Meir Yitzhak-Halevi, who also attended the plenum, bashed Knesset in disbelief for striking down the bill and called the move "a disgrace."