High Court Rules With AG Protests, Not Cops

Judge knocks down police position that protests outside Attorney General's house could be banned

Attorney General Avichai Mendelbit
Ilan Assayag

Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz said Wednesday that a ban on protests near the home of the attorney general rested on a misinterpretation by the Israel Police of a ruling by the court from April.

The position of the police, which was supported by Deputy Attorney General Raz Nizri, was that even a protest hundreds of meters from Avichai Mendelblit’s home in Petah Tikva was illegal, and that any demonstrations had to take place outside his offices in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel argued that the police interpretation was excessive and unconstitutional, and that the police had no authority to ban protests that were not directly in front of Mendelblit’s home.

The weekly gatherings began a few months ago to protest Mendelblit’s alleged leniency and foot-dragging in handling the corruption investigations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The decision by the Central District Police commander to ban demonstrations throughout Petah Tikva followed a High Court ruling on April 27 that demonstrators can be kept up to 120 meters away from Mendelblit’s home. A month later, there was a small demonstration at Gordon Square, a commercial area hundreds of meters from the house. Police dispersed it aggressively, arrested dozens of participants and broke the arm of former prime minister’s residence caretaker Meny Naftali, who was among those arrested.

Two days later, police arrested a single demonstrator who stood at Gordon Square holding a sign with quotes from the Book of Isaiah. The protestor, Yair Sadaka, appealed to the High Court against the police restrictions of his vigil, which did not require a permit.

Last week Sadaka asked the High Court of Justice to declare the state in contempt of its April 27 ruling. Justices Mazuz, Yoram Danziger and Uzi Vogelman agreed to hear the petition.

The police, while insisting that last weekend’s protest was illegal, did not disperse it or make arrests.

“I think you are misinterpreting the ruling,” Mazuz said Wednesday. “The interpretation of the ruling such that demonstrations are permitted only on Salah al-Din [the street on which Mendelblit’s Jerusalem bureau is located] is baseless. This hearing was convened out of a sense that you are misinterpreting the ruling.”

Prosecutors, representing the police, agreed to let Sadaka hold a two-person vigil 70 meters from Mendelblit’s home, while a protest vigil of five people must be 120 meters from the home. Prosecutors were expected to say Thursday whether this arrangement can apply to demonstrations, and not just to quiet protest vigils.