Israel's Top Court Proposes Restricting Protests Based on Location Size

Government says it doesn't plan to extend state of emergency allowing limitations on demonstrations, but is free to try and reinstate it should it choose

Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel
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Protesters march in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.
Protesters march in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Netael Bandel
Netael Bandel

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut proposed limiting the number of participants in protests based on the size of their location in a hearing on Tuesday about restrictions on demonstrations during the ongoing national coronavirus lockdown.

"The restriction is not on the number of protesters, but rather restriction as the result of protecting [public] health," said Hayut.

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During the hearing, lawyer Uri Eitan, representing the government, said protesters could gather in groups of 20, with the groups being separated by 20 meters (about 65 feet). Lawyer Eliad Shraga of the Movement for Quality Government, which submitted the petition against the restrictions, argued against this, saying: "The problem is that every policeman on the street has his own interpretation of 20 meters between pods. The public was never told about this number. It was invented for the purpose of the High Court hearing."

Asked by Hayut whether a distance of two meters between protesters was acceptable, Shraga replied: "Yes, but then they say, go protest that way, but only in the 200 by 200 meter area designated for you. Why? Because. And that's how, in practice, the number of protesters is severely limited."

Shraga further said in the hearing that "[t]here are 200,000 people in the street and the incidence of the virus is decreasing – that means that the protests are helping to lower the incident of disease."

Police ticket a protester in Tel Aviv, October 10, 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Hayut responded that this was "not necessarily the conclusion," noting a U.S. study after mass protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd suggesting that it was possible that infections did not rise during the period of the protests because many people who did not protest were hesitant to leave their homes.

On Monday, the government told the High Court that it does not intend to extend a "special state of emergency" that permits the protest restrictions, set to expire at the end of Tuesday. Earlier, the Health Ministry told the Justice Ministry it would not recommend renewing the order restricting demonstrations, even if there was no immediate easing of the lockdown. Even if the restrictions expire, the government could move to reinstate the state of emergency and the restrictions at any time.

The Crime Minister organization, among those involved in organizing the protests, said after the government's announcement on Monday: "The state's answer to the High Court of Justice heralds the end of the political lockdown and the end of the dictatorship regulations imposed on the country by a criminal defendant who sentenced its citizens to economic disaster."

The Black Flags movement, also involved in the protests, said Monday that it would resume participation in demonstrations near Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's official residence in Jerusalem on Saturday.

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