Police Won't Permit Tel Aviv Economic Protest Citing Coronavirus Regulations

Police say they would approve the protest, set to take place at Rabin Square, at a different location that could safely accommodate the several thousand people expected to attend, but organizers say they would turn to the court

Bar Peleg
Ido Efrati
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Israelis lift placards and chant slogans during a demonstration in Rabin Square in the central coastal city of Tel Aviv, on July 11, 2020.
Israelis lift placards and chant slogans during a demonstration in Rabin Square in the central coastal city of Tel Aviv, on July 11, 2020.Credit: Jack GUEZ/AFP
Bar Peleg
Ido Efrati

The police have refused to approve a demonstration planned by self-employed people in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday night, saying the plaza and the area around it can hold no more than 1,800 people with everyone practicing social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Police said they would approve the protest at a different location in the city, one that could safely accommodate the several thousand people who are expected to attend. The organizers have petitioned the High Court of Justice on the matter.

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A police source told Haaretz that before last Saturday’s protest at Rabin Square, the organizers, who are also planning the July 18 event, promised not to allow more than 1,800 people into the plaza outside City Hall, but attendance far exceeded that number.

On Wednesday the Health Ministry said one protester later tested positive for the coronavirus. According to public health officials in the ministry, his exact location in the square Saturday evening could not be determined.

“At a protest, people circulate, they don’t stay in one place,” explained a source in the ministry’s contact-tracing program. “That’s why people are asked to keep their distance and to wear a mask at such events,” added the source.

Protesters who were near the person with the coronavirus, as determined by the Shin Bet security service’s cellphone tracking program, were contacted and ordered to self-quarantine.

“The police can’t decide where I demonstrate, they can put up barriers to enforce order but they can’t tell me where to demonstrate,” said Dotan Sofer, one of the organizers of the protest movement led by Cabinet of Hope, a coalition of organizations representing self-employed persons. “It’s their right to enforce the law, not to cancel the law. If they say up to 1,800 people, you need to see to that, you have the authority and the duty to enforce the law.

“There will be a demonstration in any event, the police can’t prevent it,” Sofer added.

Liran Itzhaki, who is part of a freelancers association, added: “The role of the police officers is to prevent more than the allowed number of people from coming, it’s not our job. The people want to demonstrate and we are still a democracy,” he said.

Liz Azoulay, one of the protest leaders, said in response: “The economic epidemic is no less severe than the coronavirus. Israel Police can and should approve the event. Our economy is about to hit a brick wall, and the only way to stop it is by demonstrating. We intend to use all the legal means at our disposal to hold the protest on Saturday at Rabin Square, and we don’t fear even taking it to the High Court of Justice.”

An estimated 10,000 people attended the protest in Rabin Square last Saturday evening, in the course of which police arrested around 20 people. The main demands of the organizations are grants from the government and compensation for their lost income due to the pandemic emergency regulations.