In One Israeli City, Suppressing anti-Netanyahu Protests Is No Mistake – It's Policy

Although Rehovot police originally dismissed a warning directed at scouts not 'to agitate against the prime minister' as an error, it appears that local forces have acted in a similar manner on at least three other occasions

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Anti-Netanyahu demonstrations in Tel Aviv, December 2020
Anti-Netanyahu demonstrations in Tel Aviv, December 2020Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

The police from the central city of Rehovot have forbidden demonstrators from “agitation or rebuke” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and threatened that failure to comply will lead to “criminal procedings against those involved,” despite the fact that the High Court of Justice clarified that police are not permitted to stipulate conditions for protests.

The warnings represent the latest in a series of attempted restrictions on protests in the city. On Thursday, Haaretz reported that the Rehovot police had conditioned holding a Scouts (Zofim) youth movement protest to allow the movement to resume its activities on not agitating against the prime minister, the mayor, or their proxies. After the uneventful demonstration took place around a fortnight ago, the police said it was an officer's error in “formulating the conditions and we’ve learned the lessons accordingly.”

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But following the report, it transpired that the ban is not an isolated incident, but in fact the Rehovot police’s policy. Haaretz also discovered that a number of activists who wanted to hold a protest against the prime minister received a similar letter from the Rehovot station about a month ago, stipulating the event on “not making calls of rebuke, agitation, or rebellion against the council head, mayor, prime minister or anyone acting in their name.”

The police letter added that “those submitting the request must control the demonstration participants and prevent those seeking to disturb the peace from coming to the demonstration site.”

Finally, Rehovot police threatened that “failure to comply with one or part of the conditions will constitute a blatant violation of the terms and force the police to intervene and take measures, including stopping the event and opening criminal procedures against those involved.”

This is despite the fact that the High Court of Justice has ruled that there’s no need for a police permit to hold a demonstration and that the police are not authorized to make their own conditions for holding protests.

“The Rehovot police try repeatedly to prevent the freedom of protest,” said one activist. “Not only by making conditions that seem to have been taken from totalitarian states where protesting against the government or prime minister is forbidden, but in making terms contrary to the High Court’s ruling. For example, the police asked to limit the number of megaphones and loudspeakers, claiming they constitute provocation. It’s sad that we’ve reached a situation in which the police are trying to stop the freedom of expression and protest at any cost.”

The police also sent similar warnings to the Scouts movement ahead of another demonstration scheduled for Friday, and to a group of parents who had asked the police to hold a demonstration calling to resume informal education.

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

The demonstration's organizers have received a letter from the police entitled “conditions to holding the demonstration,” listing similar terms such as a ban on making “agitation or rebuke” against Netanyahu.

Among other things, and contrary to the court’s ruling, the police demanded the organizers obtain permits from Magen David Adom and from the municipality, and warned the organizers that failure to comply with any of the demands would lead to opening criminal measures “against those involved.”

“No statement inciting against the prime minister is expected at the demonstration,” said Professor Hagai Levine, chairman of the Association of Public Health Physicians, who has been invited to speak. “Protesting against a wrong, damaging policy is not provocation. Movement and social activity out in the open is vital to our health and to our successful dealing with the corona crisis in the long-term, and its benefits surpass the low chance of infection.”

The police said in response that they “act to enable every person freedom of expression and protest within the law and according to the court’s ruling. The police work accordingly during and ahead of demonstrations to maintain public order and the law and to protect the public’s safety while setting the required conditions for this. In these specific cases, the policeman made an error in formulating the conditions for those protests and lessons have been learned accordingly.”

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