Israeli Protester Tells Police: Democracy More Important Than Not Catching Coronavirus

Transcript of police questioning shows officers' attempts to see who is behind Jerusalem protest against Netanyahu's 'assault on democracy'

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Protesters hold signs reading "Fascism scares me more than corona" in Tel Aviv, March 19, 2020.
Protesters hold signs reading "Fascism scares me more than corona" in Tel Aviv, March 19, 2020. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The police detained eight demonstrators on Thursday near the Knesset in Jerusalem for protesting what they called an “assault on democracy” amid the coronavirus outbreak.

They had taken to the streets over the new regulations allowing the Shin Bet security service to track the cellphones of confirmed and suspected coronavirus patients, as well as the adjourning of the parliament a day earlier by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein.

The eight protesters were interrogated under suspicion of obstructing police officers, disturbing the peace and violating Health Ministry orders issued to contain the coronavirus outbreak, which call for Israelis to stay home and prohibit gatherings of over 10 people. Seven were released after a brief questioning, issued a restraining order barring them from Jerusalem for 15 days and handed a 3,000-shekel ($830) fine, while the last protester was kept in custody until the late evening and questioned for about an hour.

Haaretz obtained the transcript of that questioning, which shows the officers’ attempts to see who is behind the protest, how it was organized and who participated in it. The detained protester stressed several times that the officers themselves had violated Health Ministry orders, but the interrogator disregarded these assertions.

“I did nothing that you accuse me of,” he said when asked about the charges against him. “I went to Jerusalem today to save democracy. We weren’t ‘gathering,’ we kept ourselves at a distance from one another.”

When asked why he went to the Knesset, he replied that he was there “to protest the Knesset’s illegal and undemocratic closure.” He was then asked whether he is a political activist, to which he answered: “God forbid.”

The interrogator went on to question the protester about the organizers and other participants, and claimed the demonstration was “illegal and even life-threatening.”

When questioned about the demonstration’s alleged violation of Health Ministry orders, the protester asked: “Is there a reason I was put into a police car with five people, and not a single one of them had their face covered?” He added: “Democracy is more important for me than getting the coronavirus,” and argued that his actions were not in violation of regulations to contain the outbreak.

Toward the end of the questioning, the protester denied all accusations against him. His interrogator told him: “You keep talking about democracy. Let me tell you something, a part of democracy is adhering to laws, particularly emergency regulations.” The protester replied: “Our lawmakers have aggressively violated the law. We came to save what’s left of democracy.”

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