A new amendment to the coronavirus law is meant to enable the cabinet to prevent demonstrations outside the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. This is a dangerous amendment that undermines Israel’s democratic character. Virtually its only purpose is to give the cabinet the power to prevent people from protesting in the places where they have been doing so until recently.
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Contrary to the repeated claims of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the gang of yes-men surrounding him, there’s no evidence that the protests in Jerusalem have contributed significantly to the rise in the number of COVID-19 cases in Israel. Yet lo and behold, even though the cabinet has made very little use of its powers in the months since the coronavirus law was passed – despite the dramatic rise in the infection rate – it suddenly decided to quickly appropriate far more draconian powers for itself.
A demonstration is not a personal right that a person can exercise alone or near their home. The number of people at a protest, as well as its location, has critical significance. Netanyahu understands this very well, and therefore, he is seeking to restrict protests to within a very short distance from a person’s place of residence, while banning entirely demonstrations outside the Knesset or government offices. This undermines one of the fundamental rights of citizens in a democratic state.
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Government officials have repeatedly echoed the claim that Israelis will not comply with the lockdown rules if demonstrations are not restricted. This is a direct continuation of the propaganda disseminated by Netanyahu and his toadies, according to which the protests are a source of infection, as well as their ridiculous attempt to equate the outdoor demonstrations with indoor prayer services. In any case, this argument does not justify infringement of a fundamental democratic right.
A government that seeks to prevent protests against itself has an inherent conflict of interest. When imposing a lockdown, the most important thing is for the public to believe that this difficult decision was based on scientific and not political considerations. When a lockdown is exploited to prevent demonstrations, it raises serious suspicions that this was not the case. This is liable to deepen public distrust and lead to noncompliance.
Israel’s high rate of infection requires some restrictions on demonstrators, and in fact, it’s possible to set conditions for how the protest should take place under the existing law. But a democratic state must not eliminate entirely the right to protest.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.