Israeli Government Will Not Renew COVID Restrictions Limiting Protests

Once the restrictions lapse, police will no longer be able to prevent protesters from gathering anywhere, even if the lockdown continues

Israelis march against the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.
Israelis march against the Netanyahu government in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Israeli government told the High Court on Monday that it does not intend to extend the coronavirus state of emergency that allows it to restrict demonstrations, set to expire on Tuesday.

Earlier Monday, the Health Ministry told the Justice Ministry that they would not recommend renewing the order restricting demonstrations, even if there is no immediate easing of the lockdown. The announcement was apparently made in coordination with the Prime Minister’s office, Army Radio reported.

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“We will not extend the protest restrictions, which lapse tomorrow, in the hope that the demonstrators will be wise enough to obey the coronavirus rules during their gatherings, for the sake of everyone’s health,” a Health Ministry official told Haaretz.

Once the restrictions lapse, police will no longer be able to prevent protesters from gathering anywhere they please, even if the lockdown continues. But demonstrators will still be required to maintain a distance of two meters between one another and to protest in capsules of no more than 20 people.

The Black Flags movement, which is among the organizers of the anti-Netanyahu protests in recent months, said that they will "return to protest in front of the home of the defendent at Balfour this coming Saturday, as well as at some 1,200 locations nationwide. In addition we will hold protests on Thursday all across Israel." According to the organization, "Over the last month all of Israel realized that an indicted prime minister is a certain recipe for disaster."

The organization charged that "35 billion shekels in taxpayer money was wasted because Netanyahu wanted to stop the protests. Families' lives were ruined, businesses closed and Netanyahu intends to continue to do anything he can to evade his upcoming trial."

"The Israeli people came out in hordes in recent weeks from a deep desire to save Israel, and we call on them to continue and come to Balfour [in Jerusalem] to replace Netanyahu," the organization said.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during conversations with his ministers that he wouldn’t oppose lifting restrictions on protests as long as certain other lockdown rules were also eased.

At a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet last month, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit said that restrictions on protests would be illegal under anything less than a full lockdown. He also said the cabinet would have no power to ban demonstrations, but only to restrict them, unless the laws were amended.

Two weeks ago, the Knesset amended the law to allow protesters to be barred from demonstrating more than a kilometer from their homes. As a result, the main anti-Netanyahu protest in front of his official residence in Jerusalem has been replaced with numerous smaller protests nationwide.

On Saturday night, for instance, thousands of people demonstrated at more than 1,000 locations across the country.

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