Government Seeks Power to Keep Israelis in Locked-down Areas From Protests

The right to protest has by and large been upheld since the outbreak of the pandemic, but a new bill might enable authorities to stop those living in restricted areas from joining demonstrations elsewhere

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Demonstrators in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, July 16, 2020.
Demonstrators in front of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's residence in Jerusalem on Thursday, July 16, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The government is trying to pass legislation to ban people living in an area under lockdown from leaving it to attend protests in other towns.

The legislation, titled “Special Powers for Dealing with the Novel Coronavirus,” would essentially give the government the power to decide whether to let people living in restricted areas attend mass demonstrations, such as those that took place this week in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square and outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.

“Under the proposed wording, the government won’t have an obligation to let people leave a restricted area to attend demonstrations,” a source familiar with the bill explained. “That doesn’t mean the government won’t be able to let people leave to attend demonstrations, but it won’t be obligated to do so.” However, residents of restricted areas could still attend protests within those areas.

In contrast, the bill says the government may not prevent people in restricted zones from leaving town for medical treatment, legal proceedings, the funeral of a first-degree relative or to ferry children between parents living in different towns.

When the Knesset Constitution Committee discussed the bill Thursday, opposition MKs objected that demonstrations weren’t similarly exempted.

“Like a broken record, I’ll say it once again: The right to demonstrate is fundamental in a democracy, everywhere and at all times,” MK Karin Elharrar (Yesh Atid-Telem) said. “Any infringement of it is a very serious breach in our society. I very much hope this was just a drafting error and not, heaven forbid, an intentional infringement of the right to demonstrate.”

In response to MKs’ criticisms, Justice Ministry officials promised to reconsider this provision and let the committee know whether they decide to change it. One person involved in drafting the bill admitted that “it would have been better had it included an obligation to allow anyone who wanted to demonstrate outside a restricted area to do so.”

Over the past few months, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn have repeatedly promised not to let lockdowns deprive people of the right to demonstrate.