Tel Aviv Pub Owner: Police Using 'Intimidation Tactic' to Bar Left-wing Event

Holding of event sponsored by anti-occupation Breaking the Silence group may also be thwarted, as in Be'er Sheva last week, due to ostensible licensing issues.

Bar Kayma's Rotem Rosenberg and Elon Peled.
David Bachar

Just one day before a planned meeting of the left-wing Breaking the Silence organization at a restaurant in Tel Aviv’s Florentine neighborhood, the police paid a visit to the premises, saying they wanted to make sure the restaurant would not be hosting more people than it legally has space for.

“The police said that what brought them to us was that they saw on Facebook that there is a larger-than-capacity number of people expected" at the event, Aharon Porat, one of the managers of the restaurant, Bar Kayma, told Haaretz. “This happened with other events and not once did we see police officers here. After what happened in Be’er Sheva, there is a feeling that they are trying to use intimidation," Porat added.

Porat was referring to the cancellation of a talk at a Be’er Sheva pub last week, sponsored by Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation organization of Israel Defense Forces combat veterans. The cancellation followed issuance of a restraining order by the Be’er Sheva Magistrate’s Court, at the request of local police, over concerns that appropriate security arrangements had not been made for the event. The police demanded that the owner of the pub be on the premises to ensure that no more than 40 invited guests would be permitted to enter, and also that the organizers would provide two security guards for the event.

Breaking the Silence prepared a list of participants but the police told the court that on the event’s Facebook page, 250 people confirmed attendance and thus warned that the pub would be in danger of losing its business license.

“The officers themselves were very polite, but the very fact that they had come is disturbing,” Porat said, with respect to the police visit to Bar Kayma. “They looked at little details relating to the license – for example, the fact that the name of the manager had not been updated and the courtyard was being used as a smoking zone although the license did not cover it. We suggested that it seemed clear to us that this was coming from political considerations and they [the police] immediately denied it. They said, ‘We don’t care about the content, only safety.' It’s an intimidation tactic,” he added.

According to Porat, the police said that Bar Kayma’s business license limits the number of customers to 38, and have asked organizers of the Breaking the Silence event to prepare a list of participants.

Porat: “They are following up and calling us, and making sure that we make a list and won’t let more people in than the 38 our business license allows. This event is very important to them.”

The restaurant owner added that the police did not mention receiving any threats with respect to the event, or the need to provide security for it.

Gaby Lasky, the attorney representing Bar Kayma and Breaking the Silence said: “What happened at Bar Kayma comes in the wake of what occured in Be’er Sheva, and it seems that there is a pattern to deter places from giving a platform to Breaking the Silence by making baseless claims. This looks like political persecution and an attempt to silence the organization. The police should deal with public security and protect freedom of expression – not restrict it."

The spokesman for the Yiftach District police confirmed that an officer had visited Bar Kayma after “it was brought to our attention that a much larger number of people had confirmed attendance than was permitted according to the business license. To prevent breaches of public safety and public order at the location, the owners were directed to ensure compliance with the terms of their license.”