Coronavirus Restrictions May Quash anti-Netanyahu Demonstrations

Head of health services says protesters would be limited to within 500 meters of their homes with ‘no exception for protests,' while public security minister vows 'heavy-handed' lockdown enforcement

Josh Breiner
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Protesters at an anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Jerusalem, September 12, 2020.
Protesters at an anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Jerusalem, September 12, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner

The head of the Israeli Health Ministry’s health services said Sunday that the lockdown proposal submitted to the government precludes demonstrating further than 500 meters from one’s home.

When asked if the restriction pertains to demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem, the official, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, answered: “The moment there is a 500-meter limit, there’s a 500-meter limit. I don’t make exceptions for the demonstrations regarding restriction of movement.”

In addition, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana told Ynet Sunday morning that more stringent enforcement is expected for the new guidelines. When he was asked how the police are expected to respond to those violating the lockdown, Ohana replied "with a heavy hand."

According to the public security minister, "There is no choice, especially given that some Knesset members and elected officials are encouraging people to rely on common sense alone," he said in reference to comments made last week by opposition MK Avigdor Lieberman. "The focus must be on disbanding gatherings. They police are doing that today, but they will intensify their efforts."

The cabinet is debating Sunday the proposal to impose a two-week lockdown starting this Friday morning, hours before the Rosh Hashanah holiday begins. Part of the proposal is to restrict people to a 500-meter radius from their homes, save for going to essential jobs or buying food and medicine.

According to the law passed by the Knesset after the first wave of the coronavirus, the cabinet is authorized to limit demonstrations and to set the conditions for holding them, but not in a way “to prevent holding a demonstration.” The law forbids preventing anyone from leaving a restricted area with a high rate of infection, as during a lockdown, to attend a protest.

Protests have been taking place outside of the prime minister's residence for 12 straight weeks, drawing tens of thousands of demonstrators. Knesset members from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party have connected the weekly demonstrations to the rise in coronavirus infections, but Health Ministry officials have said that no new cases have been traced back to the protests. 

Last month, after residents who live in the vicinity of the prime minister's residence petitioned the Supreme Court to halt the protests, Justice Uzi Fogelman said that "the right to protest and assemble is one of the basic rights in Israel".

He added, "This right is intimately linked to freedom of expression, and is part and parcel of the same freedoms that distinguish Israel as a democratic state. Criticism of state authorities and public figures breathes life into a democracy."

Demonstrations were exempted during the first lockdown, between March and May. Some cabinet ministers, among them David Amsalem and Gilad Erdan, asked at a meeting during the first wave to order a moratorium on demonstrations, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected the idea. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said during the meetings that emergency regulations did not prevent citizens from protesting, accessing the courts or accessing the Knesset.

During the planned lockdown, the entire country will be considered a “red” zone, and people will be restricted to a 500-meter (0.3 miles) radius from their place of residence. All businesses, commerce, domestic tourism, places of entertainment and government offices that serve people in person will be closed, with the exception of essential services, grocery stores and supermarkets, pharmacies, hardware stores, medical supply stores and computer and cellphone stores and repair facilities. Restaurants will be limited to delivery and takeout service.

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