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A Body Blow to Democracy

Haaretz Editorial
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Protesters demonstrate near the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 30, 2020.
Protesters demonstrate near the Knesset in Jerusalem, September 30, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

The Knesset debated Tuesday an amendment to the law defining the government’s authorities in handling the coronavirus pandemic, a change that would render impotent the two main factors determining the force of a protest in a democracy: the number of people taking part and the location.

This is a measure that is unprecedented in the history of Israel, made even more egregious in the face of the restrictions that were imposed earlier on Israelis as part of the battle against the coronavirus. Until now, demonstrations were excluded from the restriction confining Israelis to within 1 kilometer from their homes, and the only restrictions placed on participants was to wear a face mask and to observe social-distancing guidelines.

It’s important to be precise: In practice, this legislation does not limit demonstrations, it bans them. The proposed restrictions are so draconian that they amount to a prohibition. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting, in the most cynical fashion, to exploit the coronavirus and the restrictions needed to fight its spread in order to undermine fundamental democratic rights and to suppress the dissent against him and his incorrigible government.

One mustn’t fall into the government’s rhetorical traps. No matter how many times Netanyahu and his lackies repeat the lie that the Balfour Street demonstrations are a significant source of the rise in infections, it will never become true. This amendment aims to make protesting illegal and to incriminate those who dare to demonstrate against Netanyahu. It isn’t aiming to stop the spread of the virus but the spread of dissent.

Proof of this is the shameful fact that the ruling coalition, including Kahol Lavan, opposed a suggestion made by MK Yoel Segalovitz (Yesh Atid) to allow protest convoys of cars beyond the 1-kilometer limit. What reason could there be to block this? This is not a gathering of people and doesn’t raise concerns of mass contagion. The motivation is clear: to kill off opposition.

Netanyahu won’t stop at any antidemocratic measures to guarantee his political survival and evade trial. The fact that an entire country is being held hostage to one man who has no restraints horrifies us each time anew. How much more proof will the members of Kahol Lavan need to understand that the stretcher whose load they began to shoulder is not that of the coronavirus, but rather of Netanyahu’s indictments? What more do they need in order to understand that by sitting in the coalition they are allowing a criminal defendant to cause harm to millions of citizens?

This amendment is a body blow to whatever remains of the public’s trust in the government.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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