Police Should Not Have Allowed 'Illegal' Tel Aviv Protest, Public Security Minister Says

Amir Ohana chides police for 'showing restraint' as hundreds marched through Tel Aviv against coronavirus restrictions on protests

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Demonstrators marching in Tel Aviv against the government decision to restrict protests, September 30, 2020.
Demonstrators marching in Tel Aviv against the government decision to restrict protests, September 30, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana criticized the police Thursday after they provided security for a protest against the government decision to ban demonstrations during lockdown.

Ohana, the minister responsible for the police, said that a protest without a police permit should not have been allowed to be held, and the police should not have provided security.

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Hundreds participated in the demonstration in central Tel Aviv and four were arrested following a confrontation with police who blocked their way. They were released on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday night, the cabinet approved a long list of new regulations, one of which restricts protesters to a distance of one kilometer (0.6 miles) from their homes. This restriction is valid for one week. The Knesset Constitution Committee is expected to meet Thursday morning to approve these regulations, in order for them to take effect.

The police spokesman’s office tweeted on Wednesday evening that “For the past few hours, an illegal march of protesters was held, without coordination and without permission from the police. Even though this was an illegal march, the police showed restraint and allowed the march to take place, guarded its participants and accompanied them along the route of the march.”

The public security minister, who has been outspoken on the issue of protests in the past, responded by saying: “It's alright to say: ‘Sorry, we made a mistake. We will correct it.’ The police officers are doing hard and unappreciated work. The spokesman’s statement undermines a lot of their efforts. If something is illegal, the police are not allowed to ‘allow and secure’ it. The police will act according to the law and enforce it. This is how the police will be judged.”

Unlike most of the recent protests that have swept the country, no organization sponsored Wednesday's protest in Tel Aviv. The participants marched along the main thoroughfares from Habima Square in the center of Tel Aviv, shouting slogans such as “We will not agree to a political lockdown,” and “It is our country and not Netanyahu’s.”

The police split the march into two on Ben Yehuda Street, and blocked some of the protesters from both sides so they could not proceed any further, or turn back. This prompted further altercations between the demonstrators and the police on the scene. After about an hour, the police lifted the roadblock and the protesters continued on with the march.

Deputy Attorney General Dina Zilber ruled on Thursday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the cabinet may pass legislation to limit protests, and that even if said protests are directed against them, it does not represent a conflict of interest.

“There is a certain difficulty in elected officials dealing with this issue, but it is permitted by their work,” Zilber wrote in her decision. “When the government is made up of public-elected officials, it is unavoidable to be involved in this issue.”

Zilber’s opinion came in response to a query from attorney Dafna Holtz-Lachner, who is representing the “Fortress of Democracy” group. The group had sent a letter to the attorney general asking that he prevent the government and Netanyahu from passing legislation limiting protests against them, due to the inherent conflict of interest.  

In response to the government's new restrictions, the Black Flag anti-Netanyahu protest group, which has disavowed mass demonstrations since the current coronavirus lockdown began, is expected to organize localized protests every Thursday and Saturday that will be held in small capsules, in compliance with the government's new COVID-19 regulations.

The group has already published a map that includes 2,500 locations across the country.

“This coming weekend, the State of Israel will tremble with a demonstration the size of which has never been seen in Israel,” the organization said Thursday. Among the planned protest locations are the homes of government ministers and Knesset members from the coalition.

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