EditorialEditorial Israel's Police Minister vs. the Right to Protest

Haaretz Editorial
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Protest against PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in July 2020.
Protest against PM Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana in July 2020.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Haaretz Editorial

Deputy State Prosecutor Nurit Litman issued a directive last week intended to reduce the number of protesters who have to appear in court. The directive confirms that protesting is a fundamental right in Israel, and shows lenience toward blocking roads and disturbing the peace. The directive distinguishes between a person who “slips into the road” in the heat of a protest and intentional and ongoing blockage of traffic, and calls for only violent protesters to be taken to court for disregarding a police order to disperse.

This directive is important not just because it presents a unified policy toward taking protesters to court. True, the directive was issued at the height of protests against the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a few days after an increase in police violence against protesters near his official Balfour Street residence. But contrary to the claim of Netanyahu and his followers, it was not intended to show leniency to leftists who are the darlings of the prosecution. That is just another lie from the House of Cards on Balfour Street, an attempt to tar all the protests with the same brush so as to delegitimize them.

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The directive came following public criticism, including from the courts, over differences in the way various protesters who disrupted law and order were treated over the past two years. For example, in 2018, the police were severe in their response to ultra-Orthodox demonstrators, and indictments were issued. A year later, the police dispersed a protest by Ethiopian Israelis using mounted officers and stun grenades. In contrast, when disabled people blocked main roads, the police did not intervene.

The deputy prosecutor’s directive was formulated in cooperation with the police, and those who fear for freedom of protest and expression should welcome it. As expected, Netanyahu and his inner circle see it as an opportunity to incite against the prosecution. A statement issued by the Likud spokesman to ministers and MKs said: “The party of the prosecution and the attorney general is encouraging anarchy only because of their obsessive persecution of Prime Minister Netanyahu, and letting the country go down the drain.” Public Security Minister Amir Ohana obediently attributed the directive to the struggle of the “prosecution within the prosecution” against Netanyahu.

How can the police be expected to treat directives seriously if the minister in charge of the police force thumbs his nose at them? Brig. Gen. Niso Gueta – who was interrogated last week by the Justice Ministry unit that investigates alleged police misconduct after he was filmed striking protesters at the protest last Saturday night – was not suspended, and was allowed to continue as part of the forces policing the demonstration on Saturday. This indicates that the police prefer to heed the messages of incitement from the Balfour Street residence rather than adopt the moderate policy outlined by the prosecution, or the spirit of non-violent protest expanding by the week throughout Israel.

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