The Jerusalem municipality has announced that it is embracing the position of Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and will now allow signs sporting homophobic messages, which it had previously removed.
The municipality stated its position at a hearing in the Jerusalem District Court over a petition filed by a religious Zionist group called Hazon (“vision” in Hebrew), which is behind the signs. The city’s legal counsel stressed that she retains the right to examine each case on its own merits, and that her announcement was given “with mixed feelings and a heavy heart.”
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Six months ago, the municipality ordered the removal of signs that were put up as part of an anti-gay campaign ahead of the annual gay pride parade. The signs bore messages such as “a mother and a father = a family,” and “the courage to be normal.” Since then, the attorney general was asked to give an opinion. He wrote that the signs are covered by the freedom of expression and that the city overstepped its authority by canceling that campaign.
“A municipality’s authority to limit signs in its jurisdiction on the ground that they offend public sensibilities should be limited to very exceptional cases, when the insult is extreme and more than is tolerable in a democratic society,” wrote Mendelblit in his brief, which was presented by attorney Dr. Moshe Vilinger from the Jerusalem State Prosecutor’s Office. “The consideration of harm done to public sentiment was unjustified in these circumstances,” wrote Mendelblit.
The attorney general added that the timing of this campaign in relation to the gay pride parade strengthened its legitimacy, writing, “The signs were an expression of opposition to statements made during this event [the parade].” He stressed that even without the link to the parade, the decision exceeded the city’s authority.
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Following Mendelblit’s legal opinion, the city reversed its position. The city’s legal counsel, attorney Eli Malka, said that the city accepted the attorney general’s position and would not prevent the hanging of these signs. He added that the city believed that hanging these signs during the parade justified their removal. “The city is aware of the right to freedom of expression but believes that under some circumstances and in light of past experience it had the right to deny posting such signs on the eve of the parade,” he said, adding that each case would be addressed separately.
Hazon, which is part of another nonprofit group called Dror National Missions, demanded through its lawyer Moshe Polsky that the court settle the dispute between Mendelblit and the municipality, but judge Arnon Darel ruled that the matter had already been dealt with sufficiently.
Darel said that his ruling was not required at this time, and that Mayor Moshe Leon needed to make a decision based on the attorney general’s ruling. “The city accepted the attorney general’s position, which did not forbid posting signs such as the ones mentioned in this petition, and that should suffice,” wrote the judge. “Regarding the reservation whereby the city retains the right to decide each case on its own merits, this right is self-evident. A mayor’s authority includes the use of his judgement in each case, while examining the content of each sign, its location and timing. Obviously, this consideration must take into account the Supreme Court’s ruling and the tests it determined, with the mayor also considering the attorney general’s position, as expressed in this hearing, before making his decision.”