“Crack down.” That’s what the police can be expected to do during the imminent lockdown to those who violate the guidelines, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana told Ynet. Although he was speaking of “gatherings,” he was clearly delivering a message to those who have been demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Ohana promised more stringent enforcement of the regulations. “The focus has to be on gatherings and the forcible dispersal of those gatherings. The police are doing this today as well, but they will do so even more vigorously,” he said.
Ohana’s remarks cast doubt on the credibility of the lockdown and the motivation for its introduction, intensifying fears that it is meant to crush the protests. The pandemic has provided Netanyahu with the emergency conditions that, on paper at least, justify drastic measures and the violation of fundamental rights. But while during the first wave of the coronavirus, demonstrations were exempted from the restrictions and Netanyahu himself supported this, in the current proposal they are not – despite a law passed in July that prohibits barring persons from exiting a restricted area, for example during a lockdown, in order to attend a demonstration.
The latest version of the proposed lockdown only permits a person to demonstrate within 500 meters from their home. That is an insult to intelligence; the cabinet is afraid to forbid demonstrations, because it knows that allowing protest is the litmus test of a democracy, so it conceals the prohibition behind the ridiculous decision to allow people to demonstrate outside their homes.
This is not Ohana’s first attempt to use the coronavirus pandemic to quash the protests. In July, recordings were released in which he can be heard pressuring Jerusalem Police Commander Maj. Gen. Doron Yadid to act against the demonstrators, and Yadid admitting that at the protests in Jerusalem the previous day, more tickets for violating coronavirus regulations had been issued than usual. In addition, Ohana tried to move the location of the demonstrations and said he was seeking to “challenge” the court ruling on this issue.
But this time, even Acting Police Commissioner Moti Cohen expressed his objection to restricting demonstrations. “The consequences are not simple … to disperse a demonstration attend by thousands will involve casualties,” he said. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit also objected. But Minister for Cyber and National Digital Matters David Amsalem made sure, in his master’s name, to accuse Mendelblit of caring more about the demonstrations than health concerns.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein proposed that “the professionals write their recommendations,” and asked Health Ministry Director General Prof. Chezy Levy to draw up recommendations. But Edelstein, Ohana and especially Netanyahu must recognize that the protests stem in part from the antidemocratic mood emanating from the premier’s Balfour Street residence. One cannot suppress a protest against undermining democracy by means of a frontal attack on one of its fundamental rights.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.