Minister Asks Israel Police to Consider Barring Protests Outside Netanyahu's Residence

In meeting with police chief, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana suggests making anti-government protests move to another site, but police say it can't be done

Josh Breiner
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An anti-government protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.
An anti-government protest outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has asked the police to examine the possibility of requiring protests held outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem to move to another venue, arguing that these events are hurting the neighbors. Police representatives cited a Supreme Court ruling and told Ohana it wasn’t possible to prevent a protest from taking place or require a license for it.

Neighbors complained the protests were hurting their quality of life in a meeting on Wednesday with Ohana, interim police commissioner Moti Cohen and other officials, Army Radio reported. After the meeting, Ohana asked police to examine the option of preventing the protests from taking place at the site in response to concerns of the “neighbors’ distress.”

According to one person present at the meeting, a police legal adviser raised the option of moving the protest to nearby Independence Park, and Ohana suggested not permitting the demonstration to take place at all, putting the matter in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Police officials responded that it’s impossible to enforce Health Ministry coronavirus regulations against holding large gatherings at the protests, but that it was also not possible to stop them from taking place.

Neighbors have meanwhile petitioned the High Court of Justice to prevent the protests from taking place in the area, and the court has asked the state to respond within two weeks.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Ramle, June 8, 2020.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in Ramle, June 8, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Chur Uriel Nizri, the attorney representing the neighbors, said at Wednesday’s meeting that “if there is no control over Health Ministry guidelines, then the protests are not only hurting the lives of neighborhood residents, but also putting them at risk. If the police admit there’s no way to enforce the law, then there’s no room even to move the protest to another venue.”

Yoel Shabtai, among the neighbors who are complaining, was also at Wednesday’s meeting. He said he had met “several times with the head of the Moriah [police] station who said there wasn’t much he could do. There are the one-time protests, which have turned into a nearly daily event, yielding several hours of noise sometimes through the middle of the night." But there are also protest encampments, he said, "and on the other side there are two Likud camps and a large part of the time they shout at each other. and it’s terrible. Around the clock, out of control, megaphones going all day long, and public address systems – it’s madness.

“In the past week, [protest organizer] Amir Haskel managed to get the shouting under control on his side, but in recent days the 'Likudniks' have returned and the situation has resumed as it was,” he said. “Just this morning, we had a protest at 4:30 A.M. when a Likud guy came along with a public address system and started to shout ‘Bibi, Bibi’ to wake up the 'Black Flags' people sleeping on the sidewalk … There’s room for freedom of expression and I have no problem with protests. but we have to limit the right to protest in front of public officials’ home in the middle of a residential neighborhood.”

The protests outside the residence began a month ago with protesters demanding Netanyahu resign over the corruption charges against him. Hundreds participated at first, but about a week ago the numbers rose into the hundreds, and last week there were several protests attended drawing thousands of people. The police arrested dozens of people, some of whom were issued with restraining orders barring their return to the site.

Police and a protester at an anti-government demonstration in Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.
Police and a protester at an anti-government demonstration in Jerusalem, July 21, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

A statement given on Ohana's behalf said that on Wednesday, “the minister summoned the top police brass to listen to residents living near the sites of the protests. The residents described a hellish situation because of disturbances to public order, roads being blocked, continuous noise … and for several weeks, this has been going on all the time. Minister Ohana has not ordered the protests be stopped, but instructed police to examine any possible way and to use an interpretation of the law to permit people to resume their normal lives including looking at the possibility of moving the protest to non-residential areas.”

The Police said that “the police operates to permit freedom of expression and protest to all citizens, in Jerusalem and everywhere else, with full equality and no discrimination, and regardless of the issue behind the protest, the protesters’ identities or positions. Under the law, the police from time to time the balance freedom of speech and protest with maintaining the quality of life for residents, in accordance with the law and court rulings on the issue. We are seeking as much as possible to reduce the damage to routine life for residents living in the areas where the protests take place, and those who need to use the roads.”

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