Under pressure from a court, the Moshav Gan Yoshiya local committee retracted its decision to forbid political activity in the moshav’s public areas, including facilities such as the members’ club.
The committee’s decision had been aimed at preventing Breaking the Silence, an anti-occupation Israeli soldiers’ NGO, from giving a lecture in the small community, after it was invited to do so by several residents. The court ruling confirms the freedom to hold political discussions in the public spaces of local authorities and the inability of opposing elements to censor it.
The decision by the local committee “not to put the public square at the disposal of political parties and organizations” was made in early 2016, after residents Ziv Gottesfeld, Avital Arbel and others wanted to use the members’ club for a talk by Breaking the Silence. Members of the council argued that “preserving the social fabric [of the community] is more important that giving a platform to a political organization in the moshav’s club.”
The role of the committee, it said, was “to strengthen unity,” and “It isn’t proper for us to permit activities that offend some of the residents.”
In the same vein, the committee also refused to allow the club to be used for an encounter with the Parents Circle Families Forum, an Israeli-Palestinian organization that works toward reconciliation.
The committee’s arguments were given official expression in a response to a petition on the issue, which was submitted by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel to the Lod District Court. “Social cohesion and public safety are of supreme importance,” the committee wrote, and therefore they carry more weight than “the freedom of expression of Breaking the Silence or other political elements that will cause rifts and strife in the community.”
On the other hand, attorney Tal Hassin of ACRI argued that freedom of expression can be restricted only in exceptional cases where there is a real danger to public safety, and that “the members’ club, Beit Ha’am and the lawns of the moshav constitute crucial platforms for realizing the constitutional right to expression and to the existence of a free and open marketplace of ideas.”
Regarding the arguments of the local committee that “the storm has seriously hurt the feelings of bereaved families on the moshav,” Hassin said, “Unity is not uniformity; bereaved families hold different views and can be found on both sides of the dispute.”
In the ruling last week, Deputy District Court President Menachem Finkelstein wrote, “The court suggested to the local committee that in light of case law it should retract its decision,” and that “[the committee] acted correctly when it decided to void its decision.”
Hassin said the ruling “makes it clear that there is no legal basis for the methodical attempts to block the entry of Breaking the Silence and other organizations to which opposition exists.” She added, “Public spaces belong to the entire public, with its varying views and positions. Leaders of communities large or small cannot censor public discourse taking place in their jurisdictions.”