Want to Protest? Just Don't Mention Netanyahu, Police Tell Youth Group

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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For illustration: Members of the Hebrew Scout youth movement demonstrate in Jerusalem, July 2020.
For illustration: Members of the Hebrew Scout youth movement demonstrate in Jerusalem, July 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

A group of young Scouts in the city of Rehovot, south of Tel Aviv, were told by police their request to stage a protest would be granted only if they agreed to refrain from “agitating against the mayor or the prime minister, or anyone acting on their behalf.”

The terms were set after the children’s parents notified authorities their intent to demonstrate for their local youth groups to be able to restart activities, which were halted because of the coronavirus outbreak.

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The children, who belong to the Hebrew Scouts, known in Hebrew as Tzofim, the oldest and biggest youth movement in the country, held the demonstration without any incident in mid-November. The police said their response had been a wording mistake made by a specific police officer, and that the lesson had been learned.

Since 2017, following a High Court ruling, protesters are no longer required to receive a permit from the police to hold a demonstration. Nonetheless, the parents approached Rehovot police to ensure the demonstration was safe and carried out in cooperation with law enforcement.

The police's local operations department responded to the parents’ request with a document, headed: “Conditions for holding the demonstration.” It said that no “abuse and/or calls encouraging negative activities” could be made, and it was forbidden to agitate against or insult Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Rehovot mayor Rahamim Malul. Similar instructions were given to organizers of other protests by the Scouts in the Rehovot area.

A protester dressed as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under arrest after a march on Route 1, near Jerusalem, November 14, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

One of the parents said he was very surprised by the unusual condition on the protest. “As a citizen, it made me furious,” he told Haaretz. “Do they think that we are in a thought police state, where it is forbidden to call the prime minister out? It seems there was a policeman who didn’t understand his place in a democratic regime.”

“Who in the police thinks that they have the right to decide what are calls for agitation against the prime minister?” Another person connected to the protest said.

In addition to the speech limitations, the police asked the parents to receive approval from municipal and rescue services – even though the police have no legal authority to require such conditions for holding a demonstration.

The demonstration went off without a hitch, with dozens of young people waving signs with slogans such as: “Scouts for a better future,” and “It is time to wake up, the youth movements are falling apart.”

The Israel Police said that it “acts to allow every person the freedom of expression and protest within the limitations of the law and according to court rulings. Accordingly, the police act at protests and before them according to its authority to preserve public order and the law, and to protect the public’s welfare, safety and security, while setting the necessary conditions for fulfilling this purpose according to the law.”

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